Angel Dean is an artist in Providence, Rhode Island. The work of hers that I chose for Balancing Acts at Twiggs Gallery spoke to me of “precarious balance” in the juxtaposition of so many disparate objects. She turns our throwaways into art that speaks to remembering and maintaining connections. I asked her about artist statement and about her life.
An ability to observe and making the best of chance discoveries are essential prerequisites in my work. Last winter, I happened to notice some interesting scraps of wood among the detritus outside a liquor store: they were slats of varying lengths, indented with large and small semicircles. Wineries use these plywood segments to secure bottles in shipping crates. The store’s manager kindly agreed to save these prospective art materials for me, and I gradually amassed enough of them to realize their potential. My husband, meanwhile, runs household errands on foot, and gleans curbside smidgens of rusted iron and other metals of abstract or otherwise interesting outlines. I combine these contrasting elements of wood and metal to create wall sculptures via the versatile medium of encaustic. For me, it’s a happy, alchemical union of recycling and revitalizing disparate, humble materials in a fanciful context completely alien to their original purpose.
Why is an ability to observe important to you?
I need to look harder and open my eyes wider than more seasoned artists. My skills derive from an amalgamation of classes and workshops I’ve taken over the last 15 years. I started out taking Life Drawing classes and that really taught me to look. I’ve also taken several photography courses that have had a huge influence on other mediums I like to explore. Observing makes time stand still in some ways.
Could these visual re-makings of leftovers be a metaphor for how to proceed in a world increasingly inundated in leftovers?
I think a lot about the balance of collecting things to use in my art versus becoming weighed down by the items and loss of space.
I had the good fortune to live in New York City for 14 years. I was always on the lookout for items to decorate my apartment with. I still have many of the treasures I picked up on the street or hauled out of dumpsters – old photographs, records, a metal dairy rack, chairs, etc. My Dad was a home builder and we moved around a lot. And with every move you had to decide what to take with you.
The biggest challenge of the past decade was clearing out my mother-in-law’s house. She had hung on to her parents’ belongings, her first husband’s belongings, and her brother’s belongings. And she had hung on to all of her own belongings–bathing suits from the 1940s, Slicker lipstick, tennis outfits, old magazines, plants, jars of nails. Every cabinet, nook, and cranny was jammed. She was a local historian and she had a real deep affection for all these items. But so much of it was decayed and moldy and unsalvageable. And that’s a real risk for artists who work with found objects.
I love the phrase “alchemical union of recycling and revitalizing”. Tell me more.
I have especially enjoyed seeing people’s reactions to the game boards I use. I‘d never even heard of Parcheesi, but that board brings back good memories for a lot of people.
How important is the history of the objects? Is their abandonment as no-longer-useful items an important element?
Some of the objects I work with have been dropped and then run over by cars. In fact, a number of these objects are actual parts of cars. But a good many objects that draw me to them are items that have been saved for decades—tucked away in attics, drawers, garages. When we cleaned out my late mother-in-law’s house, I discovered one giant drawer filled with every type of hair curler made from 1930-2010.
I especially love little collections of items that you find at antique stores–buttons, marbles, and the like. Last winter I made a small piece of art that incorporated old cubes of pool-cue chalk I had bought for a buck. Unfortunately, I’ll never find another collection like that.
Why is a “fanciful context” important?
Well, I like irony and humor. I have always been a cutup. That’s just me. Even when I’m creating something of a serious nature, there’s always a bit of humor to be found.
What are you juggling to make an artist’s life?
I‘ve worked at the Providence Art Club for 21 years, in a work environment populated by art, artists, and art patrons. Some of the things I’ve had to master at my job have made me a better artist. I send out e-blasts, I line up classes and workshops, I design the monthly newsletter, I update the website; the list goes on and on. The Art Club has also been a big support for me. I’ve gotten to know so many exceptional artists. The Club has even purchased one of my paintings for their permanent collection.
How often do you get into your studio to work?
Certainly not often enough. I know that. I tend to do better when I have an exhibition deadline on the horizon. When I have specific goals, I work for several hours in the evening, after work, after dinner, and then a few more hours on the weekend.
How have you fit in studio time into your family schedule?
My family is just me, my husband, and my little dog, Bug. My husband is a horror writer and incredibly disciplined at it. He always encourages me to make more art.
What other activities are important to you to feel like a balanced person?
I like to watch BBC America news in the morning. I can’t say I understand what’s going on in the world, but I do try to keep up as much as possible. Gardening has become a big part of my life. I have a tangled wild garden at my home, and I’m part of the Foxpoint Community Garden here in Providence (I was the bee keeper there for several years). I like growing my own greens, tomatoes, herbs, and lettuce. I’m vegan and eat a plant-based diet. That means lots of food and meal planning, but well worth the effort. Spending time with my pooch is important to me. He goes to work with me about 3 days a week.
See more of Dean’s work at http://angeldean.net/
Balancing Acts is on view until September 4, 2016
Artist’s reception: Thursday, August 4 from 5-7 pm
Mon-Wed: By Appointment or by chance…