I was at the Phoenix Art Museum on Wednesday, helping to install a small show for Phoenix College. I noticed a compelling installation as we walked through the museum. I asked a number of people if they could identify the artist for me. I guess I didn’t ask the right person, though one employee did tell me the material used to make the dresses was tamale wrapping.
I was so excited by the blue dresses made of what appeared to be paper, but frustrated I could only catch glimpses ( I was working dammit ). There was no label to be seen and the security guard would not allow me to get too close or take photos. This work is on loan, she noted, it’s an installation in progress. For the record, she was doing her job. And I was reluctantly respectful. I’m an artist -I want to say – I can get close! I know to be careful! – as though any of this could make any difference.
The next morning, with the work still in my head I go to my computer. I am so excited to learn the artist is Annie Lopez. I wonder … had I been allowed to get closer and really see – could I have guessed. The 3D form is not familiar Lopez to me. But I could recognize the cyanotypes. To be honest while the blue stood out – the quantity, shapes and styles of the many dresses with text pattern across them – was most catching my eye on first approach.
Lopez’s work caught my attention 20 years ago, when I first came to the valley and began looking at art. I have continued to watch her progress. Her work is never short on the personal. It’s thoughtfully put together and intelligent. Below are 2 examples from more recent years. Her themes of family and culture provoke. I connect easily. The 2nd example below showed at PAM, a few years ago. Her and I were both 2 of 10 hand-picked to take part in Local’s Only. Lopez is a photographer and often makes cyanotypes* using her photographs.
* Cyanotype is a photographic printing process, using natural sun light, that gives a cyan-blue print.
I drop Annie an email and let her know I love the new work. She writes back I am happy to hear you liked the dresses. I have spent the past six months making them!
That’s quite a bit of work for 6 month – there has to be more than 10 of these and each one varies in its details. Below is a photo her son took on the day of the install.
Annie Lopez was awarded a mid – career grant from the Contemporary Forum (2012). That’s how she got this exhibit. What does that feel like, I ask – It feels fantastic that I am no longer considered an emerging artist. The other quality I like about this artist is her simple directness. She appears as grounded as her work.
About the new work:
The idea of wearing my burdens has always been intriguing to me. If my issues (or accomplishments) are on my clothes, I no longer have to think about them. They would be everyone else’s to consider or ignore. I would no longer have to say who or what is troubling me or explain what happened. My dress would be like a sandwich sign explaining everything. The cyanotype process and text have been part of my artwork for over twenty-five years. Sewing them into clothes is a departure. These pieces are made of paper (the paper commonly used to wrap tamales), but their sculptural form becomes my personal armor.
Because clothing is such a powerful statement I look at other contemporary artists who use it. I consider noting some of them. I change my mind – this is all about Annie Lopez.
Congratulations to her on both award and the new work. Bravo!
The installation opens tomorrow, at the Phoenix Art Museum, in the Chase Lobby and runs April 13th through June 30th.
For more about the installation and artist → Phoenix Art Museum