Anna Laurie Mackay

Artist Interview
September 30, 2021
Anna Laurie Mackay

 

You were born and raised in Salt Lake and got your BFA in printmaking from Bringham Young University, but you lived in Columbus, Ohio, where you received an MFA in printmaking from The Ohio State University. Can you give us a little background on what led you to focus on printmaking, and how your background shaped your work?

 

I got into printmaking during my undergraduate work at BYU. I really connected with how process-oriented it is.  I love how physical it is and how much control it takes. I also really love how social printmaking is. Being in a print studio is always such a collaboration, and I miss that aspect of being a traditional printmaker. After I started having kids, it wasn't as easy to get to a studio with a press and my work evolved away from traditional printmaking.  Though I am no longer using a press or am working in a print shop, I still find many commonalities in how I work, as my work is very process-driven, and very meticulous, and I attribute that to my training as a printmaker.

 

 

What are some of the consistent themes and concepts in your work?

 

First and foremost my work is about being a maker. It is very physical and has evidence of my interaction with it. I view my work as objects or artifacts, and that has been something consistent throughout my career. It is also definitively rooted in exploration of materials.  I have been working specifically with thin Japanese paper, such as Gampi and silk tissue paper, for over 15 years. I am fascinated with exploring the limitations of this material and it just really speaks to me aesthetically and conceptually. 

 

 Conceptually, my work is focused on how I navigate the spaces I inhabit.  I find myself continually compelled to investigate my surroundings and my memories, perceptions and connections to the physical spaces I occupy, whether that is the space of the house or the landscapes surrounding me. 

 

 

What is your process like? Specifically, the artworks of yours at Modern West feature a meticulous weaving of tissue paper. Can you speak to what your studio process looks like, and why you weave and overlay printed tissue, which is such a delicate material?

 

My process typically begins by immersing myself in the land or spaces that I am drawn to, taking day trips with my kids,  going on drives, taking photos.  Then, I translate those experiences onto paper. That can take many forms: drawing, mental mapping, painting, printmaking, etc. Then I deconstruct the work. For the woven pieces this happens by cutting the tissue paper into strips and then reassembling them through the painstaking process of weaving with my hands.  This process becomes a literal and symbolic reconstruction. It is very methodical, tedious and extremely delicate. It is a way to give my hands ownership, much of this process becomes about muscle memory. The finished pieces I view more as an object and less of an image, as they have connections to heirloom and textile and become almost like artifacts of places I have experienced. 



How has your past work evolved into your current body of work? 

 

In part my work has evolved out of necessity.  In various seasons of my life I have had more or less time to create and during the phase in which my children were very little my work evolved from working in the print studio to working from home. This shifted my work away from the press and more towards drawing and mixed media. 

 

My work has also shifted based on my surrounding landscapes.  When I lived in Ohio, my work was primarily gray charcoal pieces, because this was a reflection of the long gray winters of Ohio. SInce I’ve been living in Salt Lake City, I found myself drawn to the great Salt Lake, and so my color palette mirrors the colors of the lake. 

 

There is also always an unpredictable and organic process in the evolution of any artist's work. A piece is made that inspires another piece, and so on. It is a continual process of creating, searching and shifting. 

 

 

What or who influences your work?

 

There are so many things that influence my work. Again, my physical surroundings are the most immediate thing that influences my work.  I am inspired by other artists: Anni Albers, Agnes Martin, Sheila Hicks, to name a few.  I am fascinated how Agnes Martin could spend decades of her career focusing on horizontal lines and still find growth and inspiration within what others may view as constraints.  I am moved by Anni Albers, particularly her manifesto, “Material as a Metaphor,” I find many parallels within my own work, as I strive to further investigate the limitations and possibilities of paper.  I am influenced by the dynamic movement and energy in Sheila Hicks textile pieces.  I find endless motivation and inspiration in architecture, textile, design and music. At my core, I identify as a maker, so when I am not working on art projects I am sewing clothes for myself or my family or making quilts.  I also find deep and meaningful influences from working directly with other artists, makers and creative people.  There is so much wisdom to be gained from open collaboration with other creative people, especially those outside your field of study. 

 

 

You’re a proponent of creating opportunities for women within the arts and you have served on the Board for Artist: Interrupted, A Women’s Art Collective in Columbus, OH. You’ve also organized and curated multiple shows for women artists. Is there a similar collective for women artists in the West/Southwest—or do you have ideas to start one? Why are you passionate about creating a space for women artists, and how can we create space for women artists in the West/Southwest, and beyond?

 

Interesting you should bring this up. We are currently in the process of making Artist: Interrupted  a 501c3. We have big plans for making it a bigger organization, with grant and exhibition opportunities. We also plan on making it a more inclusive organization, as we have come to recognize all genders and walks of life find their art practices interrupted at some point in their life, be it through parenthood, illness, juggling a second job or whatever it may be.   I do still consider myself to be a proponent for creating spaces and opportunities for women artists in particular though, as they are an underrepresented minority within the art world.  Many of those reasons being that our social structure does not create as many safety nets for women, and we find many instances when we find our practice interrupted.  The recent occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic has made many of these inequalities visible, and was something as a mother I experienced firsthand, having to shuffle my art practice around distance learning and managing the education and other needs of my 3 children.  I think one of the best ways to create a space for women artists is to acknowledge and talk about the inequalities and inadequacies in our social structure. Many people presume that the art world is an equally inclusive space for men and women, and that simply is not true.  It is still very much male-dominated.  But the more we become aware, the more we can try to navigate and facilitate opportunities for women, and that is one of the goals we have with Artist: Interrupted



Where are you taking your work; what do the next steps look like for you?

 

For me one of the common threads within my art practice has been consistency. I truly believe that if you consistently work on something it will grow and progress organically.  I am finding myself intrigued more by the relationship my work has with textile, and can see that being a more prominent theme in upcoming works.  I am really interested in the material properties of my work and the pushing and exploring those limitations. I find the more you make, the more you get at the core of what really drives you as an artist. Oftentimes the meaning and themes we associate with our work become irrelevant when you really tap into the core of what drives your curiosity, and that is something I am examining now. I am also finding myself at a new season of life, since all of my children are now back in school and I have more time to devote to my art practice, so I am excited to let myself explore and play a little bit and see what comes out of it.