YS: So, tell me a bit about yourself! You recently earned a BFA from CCA in Seattle and grew up in Dakar, Senegal. Are you still in Seattle?
AK: Yes, I am still in Seattle. I moved to Seattle when I started pursuing my BFA at CCA and have decided to stay for a while. This September marks my 5th year here.
What first interested you in making art?
Making art started out as a way of making sense of reality for me. It was a way to play around with whatever I was feeling and perceiving from my rich environment of ideas, starting from as young of an age as I can remember. The desire to understand the boundaries of reality has accompanied me throughout my art practice.
When did you first start experimenting with textile?
I started adding patches of fabric to my paintings when I was in 5th grade, fascinated by the flatness of the pattern against the paint. Since then I have been going back and forth between periods of collage with textile and found objects, and with painting, so that my understanding of collage and material informs my theory of painting, and my understanding of painting informs my soft sculptures. Right now I seem to be coming out of a long period of working mostly with textile and found objects, creating painting-like shallow relief sculptures and installations. I am beginning to integrate my textile sensibility into my paintings while continuing to make textile-based soft sculptures.
I was instantly taken by your attention to detail in the way fabric behaves and how you can manipulate it in delicate, sometimes quite sensual ways. Is this intentional?
Yes. I am drawn to fabric because of its sensuality and tactile presence. Fabric brings with it a history of being used as a covering or wrapping for human vulnerability. It covers our nakedness, presents an identity, and insulates us from the elements around us. It is almost like a second skin. The way I manipulate the fabric is a direct response to the sensations it gives my fingers, the way it catches the light, and the sounds the threads make.
You address themes related to memory and the garment as well. What are some of your major influences, or where do you gather your ideas from?
Wassily Kandinsky is a huge influence of mine. I remember finding out about him the first summer I went back to Dakar after being at Cornish for one year and thinking that his ideas of abstract theory seemed to put into words what I had been thinking and learning about making art. All of his writings are really fascinating but the one that really blew my mind specifically was his book “Sounds”. His treatment of color and shapes as living beings solidified his theory of the “picture plane” in my mind as a translation of my attitude towards my works. (I could say a lot more about him but I’m guessing I should try and keep it short). Other artists that influence me are Mark Rothko- Michel Butor’s essay “The Mosques of New York, or The Art of Mark Rothko” is an excellent description of what speaks to me from Rothko’s work-, Julie Alexander and Colleen Bratton, Nina Bjork Eliasson’s work (but also her photos of found compositions), Duro Olowu, and Louis Calaferte. The last two aren’t visual artists in the same sense as me but Olowu is a fashion designer and Calaferte is a French surrealist author. Also, fabrics inspire me with their textures and patterns. I think I was strongly influenced by the brightly colored intricate patterns worn by the Senegalese growing up.
Do you anticipate pursuing an MFA?
Yes, definitely. I would like to be pursuing an MFA within the next 5 years. Right now I’m saving up for the tuition and also getting to know myself as an artist. I really believe that pursuing an MFA would be the most beneficial when I am coming from a mature self-perception of my work and ideas.
What is your studio like? How do you get started on a piece?
My studio is 5×9 feet with a high window that gives me incredible natural light (I had to sew some photos together for you it’s really a skinny studio). It’s in an old blue warehouse under the freeway that’s been divided into lots of different sizes of studios and it is almost right across the street to lake Washington which I love.
I get started on my pieces in a lot of different ways. One of my starting points is when I see something on the street or in a free pile that I want to do something with: I could be drawn to the colors or the absurd composition of an arrangement of twigs and fallen flowers, or want to replicate a stain. Or, for example I just found a discarded fake red ostrich leather planner that I want to take apart, so that idea is marinating right now. Lots of my ideas marinate for different amounts of times, sometimes a couple of years, and come out completely different than I expected, so pondering is a huge part of my process. Sometimes those ideas spark an entire piece or just a part of it, sometimes a fabric I find seems to be waiting to be presented in a certain way, so I follow it’s wishes. Other times I design a composition based on the light on a wall.
What has been the most challenging aspect of pursuing art so far (creatively, professional, in education, etc)?
I think the most challenging part is getting discouraged. As a visual artist, there’s no prescribed path for success. Some artists are super connected and get shows or representation that way, others are reclusive but manage to catch someone’s eye, etc. I’ve decided I’m just going to pull the doors open as best I can, but even having made that commitment, it’s a constant battle to avoid being discouraged when I don’t land shows or representation. (Which is not so say ‘Oh please feel sorry for me’. On the contrary, i am so glad the gallerists and curators around me are being critical!)
What do you think has been the most rewarding part of it?
It’s hard to choose one thing but I think I would have to go with how much it helps me to sort out my non-verbal perceptions of reality. I think it especially helped me when I was growing up. It gave me a space to play with ideas so that what was going on around me didn’t become so monumental in my mind.
What is the best advice you have been given?
Haha that is another hard one. I’ll give you a couple: A number of people have encouraged me to contact curators, gallerists and artists that inspire me and are influential in the places that I want to be a part of. I think that’s a bit intuitive but having people advise me to do that helps me to get over my shyness and make the contacts, or keep them up. Another great piece of advice came from a number of people as well: to remember that having a good consistent art practice is really like having a second job.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
I have a couple residencies coming up: I’m going back to the Two Dot residency founded by Ruth Marie Tomlinson sometime next year, and Kate Sylvester and I are going to do a joint textile residency, so I am really excited for both of those. Besides that, Diego Suarez and I are working on a collaboration that will hopefully involve is doing our own separate residencies in different deserts in the west side of the country and corresponding long distance.
I am also having an open studio on the 2nd of December at Gasworks Gallery from 8- 10pm!
Also, I have been working on starting a separate Instagram account where I post a piece of art (from other artists, not myself) each day. It will mostly be works from visual artists but I would like to include writers and found compositions (like Nina Eliasson’s) as well.
Find more at annieoklaas.com!
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