Nancy Whitcomb interviewed fellow NEW member Angel Dean
Please share a little about yourself: I like to laugh and I have a good sense of humor.
Where did you grow up and what (if any) were any early influences on your work? I was born in Knoxville, TN. My dad was a home builder, so we moved around a bit. After high school, I moved to Nashville and attended Peabody College (now part of Vanderbilt). I was studying Special Education, but soon realized I wasn’t cut out for it. My mom had moved to Georgia to care for her parents, so I transferred to the University of Georgia in Athens, GA. There I spent three years in the theater department getting my BFA. Through a bunch of auditions, I got the chance to go to NYC for the big cattle call of graduate acting programs, and received a full scholarship to Cornell. After Cornell I moved to New York City and did some acting, but mostly started singing. I was in a cow punk band called Last Roundup on Rounder Records. And after that band came Shackwacky, Angel Dean and the Zephyrs, and finally a duo with Sue Garner on Diesel Only Records. (go to https://soundcloud.com/angel-dean to hear Angel) As much as I loved singing, I love making art even more. I’m a late bloomer with the visual arts, but hopefully all those years of acting and singing have a positive impact on my visuals.
Where do you live now? Providence RI. As a kid in Tennessee, Rhode Island seemed so far away and so small. But it’s the greatest little state and I feel fortunate to have ended up here. I was living in Manhattan on Avenue A and met a guy from RI. We hit it off, got married, and he lived in NYC with me for three years. But he hated NYC, and I was getting tired of schlepping my amp and guitar up 7 flights of stairs…so we moved to Rhode Island. First thing I did was spend 3 months scouting all the animal shelters for a puppy. Turns out I love dogs. I had no idea how much until I got a dog of my very own. All my mothering instincts have been lavished on a series of dogs: Diesel, Convoy, Ethyl, Snowball (my Mother’s dog that I took when she passed), and now Bug.
Describe your process of creating art: I’m a hunter-gatherer. My husband walks everywhere and picks up bits of rusty metal for me. I save digital and paper images I find. I have a giant pile of wooden pieces ready to be used. I do my best work when I get my thoughts together and have a game plan of what I want to create. Having all the ephemera and materials around makes the process go more smoothly once I begin.
When I sang, I would describe myself as a stylist or an interpreter of music. I hadn’t studied singing, I had studied acting. I had done a lot of vocal training, but not the sort of training a classical or operatic singer would have had. I feel that way about my visual art as well. I’m just sort of doing my own thing with the knowledge I’ve picked up over the years.
What are your inspirations? I love old photos. My mother made the most beautiful photo albums of the family, and a fond memory I have is being curled up with her going through each page and pointing and reminiscing. Photos are very often a spring board for me into a painting, as are old movies and my own vivid dreams.
Has your practice changed over time? How and why? I take my time now. It’s very tempting to go fast with encaustic. But I have found that I get better results when I think first, do plenty of pre-planning and testing, and then get going with the piece.
Do you sketch or preplan for a piece or does your art evolve during the process? When I’m working on an exquisite corpse piece, I plan it out very carefully. I have the basic look of the piece all worked out before I start melting wax. Each body part must be photoshopped, positioned, sized, and flipped for the transfer. The background imagery evolves a bit as I go. When I started working on Bodies of Work, I took a poll on Facebook to ask friends to name their favorite women artists of all time.
I calculated the results and selected the most recognizable top 4. Each square has a little story of the artist and all these stories make up the whole piece. That piece went on to win Best in Show and it sold! I was deeply encouraged at how my hard work had paid off. I do look for encouragement and try to surround myself with friends who offer support. And I try to give back as well.
How do you work? My studio is a corner room on the second floor in my home. It’s attached to a non-heated sun porch, so it gives me a bit more space for storing collections of found materials. My computer is in my studio, as I need it for working on photographic material, but the computer is also handy for playing music I’ve downloaded. I must have music. I work a lot on the weekends. Or grab a few hours after work. Not ideal, but it’s fine for now. I like a deadline. And I like having a specific show to create work for.
How did you start working with wax? I took a weekend workshop with Felicia Touhey at the Providence Art Club and had such a great experience that I just never looked back. I started gathering tools, buying supplies, revamping my little studio. I got hooked pretty hard, very fast. A good teacher can be so influential.
Do you use other mediums or exclusively work in wax? I like printmaking: monotypes, white line prints, trace monotypes. Photography. Collage. But just about everything goes with wax.
What might someone be surprised to learn about you? Last summer I trained a chipmunk to come and eat out of my hand. Hmmmm, I’m married to a horror writer? I feed a giant flock of blue jays every morning?, I once went on a week-long turtle watch to Wassaw Island and witnessed a nest of just-hatched loggerhead turtles racing to the ocean by moonlight.
Do you have other jobs other than making art? I have worked at the Providence Art Club (PAC) as an administrator for the past 23 years! It was the first job I took when I moved to Rhode Island. The PAC was founded in 1880 by a group of artists who wanted a place to exhibit their art. We have four historical buildings that house 3 galleries, classroom, print studio, kitchen, 2 dining rooms, about 20 artist studios, an archive, and art storage. I love the membership because we have artists from all walks of life and all ages. I started taking art classes in the evenings back in the late 1990’s. Sort of like my singing, and my acting, I like to express myself with visuals. I didn’t know that about myself until I started making marks. But I had a lot of support to keep at it and that’s what I’ve done.
Working at the Providence Art Club you must see hundreds of artists and art works every month. Do you find it challenging to keep your focus, and hone in on your own style? I’ve found it a nurturing place. Everyone has been so accepting and encouraging. The other artists see originality in my work, and the fun and joy of making art.