Spotlight on Anne Doris-Eisner
Anne Doris-Eisner is an artist working in water media. The regenerative qualities of nature heavily inform her work. In this interview, Anne discusses her years as a teacher of art, her process, and her influences. View Anne's work on her website at www.annedoriseisner.com.
Pauletta: We're going to start with a question that goes back to your beginnings as a high school art teacher. What influence did your thirty-six years of teaching have on your development as an artist?
Anne: Teaching was such a wonderful opportunity for me to share what I loved and what, you know, I felt I was born to do. But it also allowed me to learn more along with my students. I always researched while developing assignments. I would take my students on field trips, and I researched more art history. I always had guest speakers coming in, so I feel I had this great exposure and opportunity to experiment with a ton of different tools and techniques without actually investing in all of them financially to get that experience. I eventually realized how much I love making marks with calligraphy, and I love playing with watercolors and water media. My exposure to artists from ancient to the present also helped inform me that whatever I did was OK. It set me on the search for my voice as an artist, which was a little hard to find because I had this exposure and loved playing around with every kind of style and technique.
Pauletta: You talked about playing with the watercolor medium. How much of your work evolves from the playful as opposed to planning out a finished piece?
Anne: Well, it fits my personality anyway, to not be a very structured person. I love the unexpected and respond to it and have a conversation with the water media, making quick decisions or letting go and seeing where it takes me. That continues to be very much a part of the way I work now. I took a class at Creative Arts Workshop on plein air painting with Lora Lee Bell thirty years ago or more where I worked with other people outdoors on location to capture the spirit of a place. I then benefitted from the critique of all these people that I respected. That helped me also to find confidence in how I chose to express myself and the world in my way.
Pauletta: From those early years that you just talked about, how has your art evolved?
Anne: I've learned even more how to let go, but my work has a more serious underpinning now because I had gone through great tragedy when my son died when he was eighteen. In my work, I couldn't deal with color or just lighthearted representations of nature. It was when I was at a residency in the northernmost corner of British Columbia, in the wilderness, that I found my true voice and power as an artist through working with black and white. I was still working from nature. All my previous years of observation and experimentation just got channeled a little differently as I saw how nature overcame the great challenges thrown at it and how the world is just born out of chaos and has had to transform to go forward. We all have that strong inner life force that makes something deep within us yearn to go forward. I had felt my work needed to evolve to find a certain power that I felt I hadn't been able to tap into. Then catastrophe happens, and like I used to tell my students, there are no mistakes, only creative opportunities. Even in the greatest tragedies we have to face and challenges of all kinds, there are opportunities for growth and a sort of regeneration. I feel like I've been through the fire, and like the Phoenix rising, I found the positive in it. My work has evolved in a way that I'm trying to tell stories through my work, but in code, through nature, using nature and that majesty, that ability nature has, a resilience to move forward.
“Even in the greatest tragedies we have to face and challenges of all kinds, there are opportunities for growth and a sort of regeneration. I feel like I've been through the fire, and like the Phoenix rising, I found the positive in it.”
I feel like my work has evolved to make me more in sync with what is going on in the natural world, and I want to teach about grief, the grief journey. I want to teach about life, how to live with vibrancy through my work. It's become a vehicle for sharing. People tell me how it becomes, I don't want to say, like therapy, but my work has become an essential tool for unlocking people's emotions and stories.
Pauletta: Wonderful. That brings me to my next question. Art is often a solitary pursuit, and you talked about your art as a vehicle for sharing. Will you expound on that a bit?
Anne: So, having had a career as a teacher, my second life as an artist has freed me to make work that pleases me. It gives me an opportunity to have the time to share it through exhibits and not have to worry about selling.
Pauletta: I want to talk about the idea of the artist's way of walking through the world that goes beyond commercial success. I've always thought of the concept of "artist" as something that one is instead of being something that one does. For example, I can tell you about an artist I know who talked about being a young girl whose spirit was drawn to art. She lacked the means to purchase art supplies, and so she would draw in the dirt with sticks - and to me, that personifies the artist's spirit. It's something that's within us that just has to be expressed. Would you talk a bit about that?
Anne: I just love your question. I love the thinking and the concept. I feel like I was born to make art. We can teach it - it's like nature versus nurture. I take pride in helping other people see what they're looking at, "Look at that, look at that, watch that." But it's always been in me since I was a little girl. I have memories of being in a swing and looking at the light and shadow on the leaves that were in the tree over it. Most people I've learned don't notice those kinds of patterns and things. I used to copy ink drawings by Van Gogh from my mother's books when I was nine or ten years old. My mother was a great inspiration to me, and I got exposed to all kinds of museums and cultural events.
I feel like you do in that I came into this world wired to see the world in a certain way, to see it closer, but my observations were nurtured and encouraged by my family. And I believe that my students, high school students, you know, were encouraged by me to talk about things that they usually don't talk about and to see the world more closely. I believed in direct observation through drawing - how important that is, and until you try to draw something from life, you don't really see it. It's then you start noticing those shadows and those marks. It's always been said that if you genuinely want to see the world, take a walk with an artist. I'm sure you heard that.
Pauletta: Yes, there's a different perception. It's a more profound perception.
Anne: I believed as a teacher that you could open eyes and minds and help people learn about themselves and just expand the way they see themselves included in the world.
Pauletta: Would you tell me a bit about your creative process? You talked about your influences, your significant influences from nature, and your mother. Would you tell me how that ties in with your creative process today?
Anne: Well, I realize I was born to make marks. I mean, as I mentioned to you, always noticing the patterns, the leaves and then copying the Van Gogh ink drawings and then my mother, I just have to go back to that because there's this distinct memory I have of being in a museum in front of a Van Gogh painting. That was during the time of Jon Gnagy, and Bob Ross saying, "and this is how you make this" and "this is how you make the water," and something in me rebelled from being told. So, you know, something unlocked for me, and I realized that these great artists are working from their imagination. Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and the Chinese landscape painters all became teachers for me and helped me to be able to figure out that it was OK to show my emotions and talk about important things.
I continued with the markings and working from nature. Sometimes I'll take a photograph of a tree or rocks or whatever seems to have been through a great cataclysm, but it's gone on to grow - like trees I saw in Atlin, British Columbia when I was on a residency. They had been snapped and destroyed, but then they put out brand new branches, and a tree that had been struck by lightning put out a new trunk. That was a great inspiration for me. In my process, sometimes I will be inspired by looking at nature, you know, seeing the trees, saying to my husband, "stop the car!" And I have to run out and take my camera. I use that as a resource, but I'm not copying it, and I'm trying to use it to trigger my memory about what it was that drew me to that particular thing.
It's very strange, but these objects, while I'm making my markings and laying it out, take on a life of their own. I start seeing images, faces, animals. It's fascinating to try to figure out later, like a Rorschach piece, what is it telling me about myself that these images are emerging. That's part of my process, not paint by numbers, not connect the dots. Every moment is a decision based on instinct, not because it was there in life. My process is getting even more experimental and loose now. I'm finding it very exciting. It's not just tight marks that look like every mark is important to me. I'm doing a lot with pouring and rolling and mopping it up and splattering and then working into it with more marks. So, I'm learning, and I'm evolving as a person. I'm getting into these later chapters of my life, and I'm listening and being able to trust. I mean, why not, if not now when?
“I'm getting into these later chapters of my life, and I'm listening and being able to trust. I mean, why not, if not now when?”
Pauletta: That's right. I'm assuming you have a studio, so how does that influence the way you work?
Anne: Oh, I love my studio at Erector Square. I'm on the third floor of an old factory building where they formerly made erector sets.
Pauletta: I've been there. That's a beautiful space.
Anne: I have two big eight-foot square windows and tons of light pour in. It's my, “the room of one's own,” you know, like Virginia Woolf wrote. OK, I have this place to go where I can be alone with my thoughts, not distracted by social interaction unless I want to be. Wonderful, other artists are on my floor if I need feedback, you know, to connect with another artist. There are these other women artists that I've developed friendly relationships with who I respect.
Pauletta: You have a series called Goddess on your website. How do you think the concept of goddess informs your art?
Anne: I'm glad you noticed those pieces. They're very dear to my heart. They started with finding a tiny bit of driftwood at Lake Atlin when I was in British Columbia. I looked at this little piece, I mean, it's maybe an inch big, and it looked like it just had a very regal kind of quality to it, and I felt it was like a spiritual message. These goddess pieces represent woman - woman as a spiritual being, woman vulnerable, woman as mother, woman as courageous and taking flight, finding herself. The first one where she has all these folds around her body is like she's the nurturer. Still, she has this heart vein of red, her heart bleeding deep and, and yet, like an onion with many layers, you know, complex, and so this whole series has a very personal feeling to me because of how I found it. You can see one of them behind me. I call her Cerulean, and in the center of the figure, it's like the chakras in the celestial sky. It looks like the blue sky, cosmic. It has a cosmic feeling for me and then has these little areas that show her chakras. In the woods around her, there is in the deep black and white another female figure. So, it's mysterious.
Pauletta: Yes. I mean, we could spend another whole session talking about the spiritual in art, but our time today is coming to a close. I have to wrap up our interview. For our audience, I want to ask you, is there any project that you're working on that you'd like them to know about that they can look forward to seeing in the future?
Anne: Clouds. Clouds, the sky instead of what's on the earth. What's in the air, what's moving, what's transient, the moving tides, the things in our life that come and go, that flow, the storms that roll in, and then there's the light behind it - another way of storytelling,
Pauletta: Will you be putting those works on your website?
Anne: I may. I'm thinking of doing that soon. And it's the season for applying for exhibitions around. And so, we'll see what things I have the opportunity to get out into the world.
Pauletta: Thank you so much, Anne. I think we covered a lot of ground today. It's been a pleasure talking with you.
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