An Interview with Ann Christopher
On the occasion of our exhibition Ann Christopher | Dorothy Dehner, we interviewed Ann Christopher about her artistic practice, inspirations, and her own interpretations of Dorothy Dehner.
Rosenberg & Co.: Your process has often been described as “intuitive,” even as many of your works have titles that imply a series (ex. The Lines of Time, Following Lines, etc.)—and several of your series comprise works made over a span of years. How does a shared naming convention, or the idea of working within different series, factor into your intuitive process? Do you know in advance how many works will be included?
Ann Christopher: The intuitive element is the actual creation of the work —a work or series does not get its title until it is completed but titles will start to collect during the process—I have kept and added to lists of potential titles for years.
With a work on paper, I literally keep working until I feel the need to break/end the series—this can be a series that picks up again at some point like Following Lines which I started on a residency in Ireland and then continued at the same Irish residency two years later—the series was triggered by my response to the surrounding landscape – the consistency is the paper size.
So far there are 8 in this series which may be the end, but it may not be.
Some paper series like Marks on the Edge of Space became a fixed series of 12 all produced during one residency in France, they were first exhibited as the set of 12 that I had envisaged but are now released from that constraint and available individually.
The Lines of Time (a finite series of 27 spanning two years for an exhibition installation in The Fine Rooms at the Royal Academy 2016). They were installed in a chronological line over three of the walls. I did not initially know what number it would be – it almost ended at 26 but no. 27 just happened at the eleventh hour and completed the set. It was always intended that the complete series were to be shown together first before being made individually available.
R & Co.: You once described knowing that a work was finished when it ceased to look “wrong.” Do you ever experience the opposite—knowing that a work is “right”?
AC: I do get a good feeling sometimes when things are going well— when the work is dictating to me what needs to be done— but if it is a sculpture that is intended to be cast it is never totally finished until it is finally patinated, I see it finished in my head and sometimes that means working on the bronze. As I have worked with metal for a great many years, I know what can be achieved at each stage of its production and what needs to be done to refine and finish the sculpture.
R & Co.: Elsewhere, you’ve described your process for creating sculpture as beginning with an idea of a “vague ghost,” then working with sketches and cardboard until eventually casting and finally working with your hands. Does the final step of working with your hands change with each edition number of the sculpture?
AC: I am human and not a machine so inevitably there will be small differences with each edition— this is most obvious with the patination but as I am so hands on with the final stages I feel that if the piece looks good to me then the fact that it is not exactly identical is not a major issue. I certainly try to make each edition as true to the original as I can though.
R & Co.: How does this process differ with your drawings and works on paper? Does the change in medium inspire or enforce differing implications for your intuitive process?
AC: Not really—works on paper usually start with tiny sketches—and then working out paper size, whether it should be cut, whether there are deckle edges all round or maybe just at the lower edge. The drawing will start, and the original plans may change as the work progresses—I guess a sketch idea is really just the starting block, I relish the moment that the work takes you over whether it be 2D or 3D.
R & Co.: Both your work and Dehner’s evokes action, or the memory of movement—as seen in your aerodynamic or mechanical influences and Dehner’s curving arcs and intersecting lines. Though many of the sculptures could both be deemed “totemic,” you and Dehner obviously arrive at contrasting final forms and textures. Would you say that Dehner’s work emphasizes dynamism while yours emphasizes stillness? What are you seeking from the final forms of your sculptures?
AC: I feel that my work does have a greater stillness than Dehner but there is also a strength which I think we both share. In answer to the last part of question 4—this quote I found from Dehner expresses it exactly: In the end no matter what it is, it is what I have to do.
Installation view from Ann Christopher | Dorothy Dehner. Works by both artists.
R & Co.: What is the importance of bronze as a material for you? How would you characterize your relationship to the metal, and of the metal to your work?
AC: I had two grandfathers who worked in metal—one was a blacksmith, and one was a watchmaker so metal was in my genes. I wonder if Dehner’s connection with metal began during her life with David Smith.
Bronze is certainly the metal I cast in most – the metal I am used to working with—the easiest metal to work with—when I change my choice of metals to stainless steel or silver it is because of their color and how I envisage the look of the final sculpture. I can see the finished work in my head— I know what it will look like.
R & Co.: Speaking of the constructivist work of David Smith and Anthony Caro, Antony Gormley has said that, “Although I use it myself, that kind of construction is an offshoot of sculpture, because you can make the temporary association of disparate things permanent by welding them together” (Shaping the World: Sculpture from Prehistory to Now, p. 356). Is this a feeling to which you relate? Your sculptures are largely cast, not constructed—unlike your works on paper, which are often collaged or additive in process.
AC: As a student I made welded steel sculptures—scouring scrap yards for interesting shapes but then I was afforded the chance to learn about casting metal and that immediately became my method of choice. It opened up endless possibilities of shape and scale—I believe that you can cast anything given time and of course money! Interestingly I do not consider the permanence that metal sculpture brings - my sole goal is to make.
I am aware that many of my works on paper do have this 3D element, but I do not deliberately set out to make them three dimensional it literally just happens. I do however chose etching above any other printing method because of its 3D quality when I make prints—a relatively small part of my oeuvre.
R & Co.: Dehner also primarily worked in bronze at first, using the lost wax method, until she began constructing sculptures in wood. Later, when her eyesight was failing her, the gallery she was working with hired a fabricator to help her construct sometimes monumentally scaled steel sculptures. As a sculptor, how would you understand Dehner’s shift in material and process?
AC: Well materials certainly get heavier as the years go by but I think the desire to be making sculpture is the driving force—if that means working with lighter materials then that is fine.
I have never worked with an assistant in my studio but am reliant on the skill and sensitivity of the foundries to progress the sculptures from my originals into metal. When I first left art school I worked with my partner in his fine-art foundry so I actually know the entire process—now I can afford to pass this part over to the foundry, but I still always finally finish my own castings. My Corten steel sculptures have meant working with fabricators and Dehner and I share that when dealing with large scale work. I guess making sculpture will always be a team effort at some point, but the initial creative part will always be intensely private for me.
Ann Christopher | Dorothy Dehner is on view from January 3–March 26, 2022.