ANNE FARLEY GAINES – Artists’ statement
|Treasures of Palos Heights|
I have been an artist for over 40 years. Having grown up in the country in South Haven, Michigan is most likely why nature was my central theme for a long time. The Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago is where I have lived since 1980, however. In recent years, imagery and influence from these surrounds has infiltrated my paintings, drawings, mixed-media works and folding screens, even though nature remains predominant. Some works have included views of my 1875 Victorian home from unusual angles. In 2006 and 2008 I received CAAP grants to subsequently produce works of two different series – “Lessons from a House” and “Pilsen Homes and Gardens.” I sometimes used a shaped, 3-dimensional surface for surprise, variety, and humor. Producing these series was a significant way of dealing with the fact that my home has been a money pit and has caused me considerable joy and angst.
In 2010 I ventured into painting on ceramic tile, and in 2011 incorporated shaped ceramic tile into my mixed-media works. This was concurrent to a large mural commission, “Treasures of Palos Heights,” completed for that city with the assistance of my sculptor-husband, Geoffrey Novelli, in paint, ceramic and mosaic. Collaborative murals are a large part of what I now do, such as the 72’x26’ mural I completed for San Jose Obrero Mission, a women’s shelter in Little Village, in 2013. Having been in a very trouble marriage earlier in my life, bonding with the shelter participants and painting with them helped me to feel the completion of a circle and to put the past behind.
My most recent mural was completed in several parts in paint and mosaic. It was titled “Abundance” and I collaborated with eight Public Art students I taught while a visiting faculty member at Principia College during the fall semester of 2014. The subject matter was the nature of the region – birds in particular – plus Mississippi River imagery, livestock, and distant bluffs and fields. The completed panels, all using cement board that I spent endless hours cutting as a substrate that the students could paint and produce detail on in mosaic clusters, were affixed onto a large building in Alton, IL and dedicated by the Mayor. The doing of this mural coincided with the sad events in Ferguson, Missouri of a police officer shooting a young man multiple times before killing him. One section of the “Abundance” mural was what I termed the “Elijah Lovejoy” section. He was an Abolitionist journalist whose press was located in Alton in the 1830s at the time Missouri was leaning toward becoming a slave state. Lovejoy was eventually murdered for his unpopular views and his press was destroyed at the same time. Lives of some of his employees were lost then as well. I incorporated the Elijah Lovejoy memorial of an angel on top of a pillar in the design with two African-American and two white students at the base of the memorial picking and sorting plums on one side together and picking and sorting apples on the other, a gentle symbol of racial harmony and solidarity.
In addition to exploring the spontaneity of pleine-aire painting whenever I have had a chance to venture out into the light and explore stimulating subject material, portraiture is an important genre to me. It helps to keep my own soul alive as I look into the eyes of another. This love of portraiture has been very advantageous to my mural projects. I relish painting people I know well, several times painting them non-commissioned for the sake of painting them.
In 2002 there was a mass exodus of artists from the East Pilsen neighborhood, as rents were rising. Being saddened by this, I did a series of portraits of neighbors and friends, several of them artists, and installed the work at a neighborhood café. It helped to fill a growing void. Because of this unstoppable quality of empathy I seem to have, and try to infuse into my artwork, I was very moved to do a portrait of a young male victim of gun violence for the exhibition, “Faces Not Forgotten.” His name is Tony McCoy. I ultimately hope that it makes a very positive difference in the life of his mother whose loss is unimaginable.