Joanna Angell is an artist of many media, and her love of experimentation is clear through her work.
Angell teaches at University of South Carolina Beaufort, is a member of the Savannah Clay Community, and recently had a solo exhibition of work up at Savannah State University.
“Touched” was a retrospective of Angell’s career, starting from her grad school days up through today. The work shows how talented and versatile an artist Angell really is: etchings and printmaking were on display with ceramic pieces and a new conceptual venture.
Angell is based in Savannah and plans on exhibiting again as soon it’s safe to do so.
We caught up with Angell last week.
1. Tell me about “Touched.”
It was a little retrospective of a lot of work. I work in physical art, not digital art. “Touched” was a piece I made in response to a fellow who thought that the future of art would be all digital. My response was that I like things that are touched, I enjoy the physical, so that’s what that was about.
I still feel like it’s an important concept. It’s also a word that can be interpreted several different ways, so if for you it’s about the Me Too movement, that’s fine with me.
I was an undergrad English major, and there is some writing you’ll find [in the pieces]. It could be pretty much indirectly tied to Me Too, to women who need to tell the stories.
2. Do you find ties between your earlier and more current work?
It’s all tied together. For me, having a show, I used to think it was all about, “Look at me, look at me,” when it’s really a chance for me to do some assessment, looking for connections. That’s a language I developed in grad school: I place myself in here and tell my story about where I am.
The reception [of “Touched”] was awesome. There were a lot of Savannah State students who had amazing questions for me, and they helped me think about my work a little bit more.
3. What inspires you in your work?
At the Columbus Museum of Art, I saw some of Anselm Kiefer’s work—he in the 80s was a really big influence. But he piles on paint, and it’s totally different. What I’m doing is I’m taking a roof from a dream I had, and taking my prayer cloth, and a gate from a photography of my grandmother when she was a child.
I’m inspired by dreams, things I see, the figures. I did a lot of empty dresses for a while. They prayer cloth took the place of the dress, and then the bodies started happening. Recently I’ve added the figure.
I keep a journal, one in my room by my bed because that’s when dreams are the most likely to be remembered. I also keep one in my studio that’s kind of an artist journal, so I write little things on slips of paper when people are talking to me and I bring them home and put them into one journal or the other. I take good notes.
4. What’s your artistic background like?
My mother was an artist, and I was basically raised in her studio. From the time I could probably speak or walk, I made art.
My mom was a painter, but she dabbled in so many things. She never found a material she didn’t like. She made jewelry; her ceramic kiln was the first kiln I had when I left graduate school and didn’t have that many supplies. She was a printmaker, a ceramicist, generally an artist, but she made her living as a commercial artist. I remember walking alongside her down on Broughton Street when she’d deliver artwork by hand to the stores before the age of computers.
Just growing up, being given the opportunity to explore any material I was interested in, that’s a freedom that I wish any child could have.
I grew up in Savannah and I never thought I’d be back. I got into Drew University in New Jersey; it was my undergraduate college. I grew up going to New York every summer to visit my grandfather, and I really wanted to be close to the pulse of the world, Manhattan. I went to school in New Jersey to be close to Manhattan for a while, then ended up back at the University of Georgia for grad school, and I found my way back to Savannah.
5. How do you balance your personal practice with your work teaching?
I’m inspired by young artists, I’ll just say, and teaching has been really beneficial in that regard. Also having a community of other people who teach is fabulous. Sometimes, when I’m doing demonstrations, I’ll try something new just for fun and of course that can inform my work or practice. I do a lot of demoing, so a lot of the experimentation happens then.
It’s hard to balance, but I think it’s necessary. I think my students respect that I’m a practicing artist. I had my own studio practice before I started teaching, and I made my living that way. My understanding that that’s a possibility, I think is also really good for young artists to know.