Studio practices are as varied and personal as the clothes one wears or the food one eats. The studio practice of Annie Albagli is no exception. Prioritizing no one way of working Annie is both a maker and a social practitioner. Meaning her studio practice ranges from print making, object and installation making to planning and preparing for projects that take place outside of the traditional arts community. I met up with Annie on a recent trip to San Francisco. We met each other at the Embarcadero station platform on the San Francisco BART. From there we headed out to Annie’s studio in Oakland at the Kala Institute, we had a 20 minute walk which turned out to be a perfect start to our interview.
Annie recently relocated from Washington DC to the Bay Area, and has become quite taken with the architecture, decoration, trees and plants of the Bay Area houses. The colorful houses and palm trees lined the streets of the walk and Annie made sure to point out her favorites. The imagery and color palettes of the places in which Annie works have a tendency to end up in her work and I could see the relevance of this new location fitting in nicely with her new work. We finally arrive at Kala Institute which is housed in an old Heinz Ketchup Factory. The grounds are green and well manicured. To get into the print studio which spans the entire top floor of the building, we climb 3 flights of stairs that end in a gigantic red door. Behind that red door is 8,000 sq feet of etching, lithography, screen printing, and letterpress equipment with tall stacks of wooden flat files everywhere.
Our conversation quickly turns to Annie’s new body of prints and cut paper collages. The imagery has been recycled, tweaked, and abstracted from her earlier projects. This transformation of her older work into her newer has become integral to her process. “Its this huge recycled vocabulary thats growing and changing.” In a desire to really define a certain personal aesthetic Annie expresses her current interest in working with the same imagery over and over again. But challenging herself to layer and execute techniques that result in different projects. It is an artistic practice in patience, self awareness, and commitment. It reminds me of an artist talk where I heard Leonardo Drew say he worked on a body of work for seven years before he tried to show it. In a world of immediate gratification and over sharing the idea of retreating into your studio practice to fortify ideas and problem solve sounds very refreshing. Annie has a prolific work ethic but taking the time to reflect seems to have an equal importance as the production. Just like our morning walk to the studio, Annie takes frequent walks when see needs to look at something else besides her work.
A piece Annie is currently working on consists of a purple and yellow screen print of bare tree branches. The imagery is printed repeatedly on the same sheets of paper and slightly off set resulting in an almost blurry image. The piece is beautiful but hard to look at because your eyes cannot completely focus. It is clear that Annie is well versed in the technical language of printmaking but is completely uninterested the perfectionism and cleanliness of the medium. “I kinda think of printmaking as a dance or really art making in general, where you gotta know you steps to be effective.“ Annie explains that she doesn’t print on the vacuum tables that is common practice with screen printers. She prints on the large drawing tables in order to move around it. “I use being a print makers as a tool to convey something greater. I think of these prints more as quilts or paintings even though they are not directly painted because that’s my relationship to the work.”
When I asked Annie how this physical act of making relates to her social practice works, she responds that it is all about the execution of ideas in the manner that best solves the problem. In fact her participatory works parallel her studio practice but incorporate higher stake parameters. For example, her recent trip to Israel, resulted in her traveling to two different cities in which she knocked on people’s door and asked them if she could create a work of art for them in their house that represented paradise for them. “For a lot of the project it wasn’t about what I painted, I mean I painted Winnie the Pooh for little kids in some houses. It was much more about this human interaction and doing something for somebody that you don’t know. I think its really important to have that experience of this human interaction, this sort of love you can have for people even though you don’t know them.”
What’s next for Annie Albagli? The DC Arts and Humanities Council just purchased her piece Paradise; Ode to Netzarim to be included in their permanent collection. She will be teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2012, and is applying for graduate school.