Anne Hayden Stevens surveys the back wall of her Wilmette home studio, head cocked to one side and eyes intent, exactly matching the blue in the painting we just pinned there. “I think that’s straight…” she muses, “but we can move it however you like.” The painting is straight, for now occupying exactly 48 x 36 inches of space. But like any of Stevens’ many narrative landscapes, parts of it may soon also figure into one of her digital collages.
“I’ve been working on the relationship between digital processes and traditional painting and drawing for years now,” says Stevens, “trying to leverage the opportunities of both.”
“I often feel when I finish a painting, that there are more places I’d like to go with it, themes I’d like to explore,” she explains. “This collage process allows me to take pieces of a painting I’m still interested in and push them further.”
Stevens, an artist and printmaker with a Master of Arts in Design (Visual Studies) from the University of California, Berkeley, a BFA in Printmaking and Drawing from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California, and printmaking certification from the Il Bisonte School of International Printmaking in Italy, started working on her current series of paintings—and the parallel collages—about two years ago. She usually develops the paintings first. Making a collage, she merges high resolution photographs of fragments of the paintings to create landscapes embellished with hand-drawn illustrations and vector drawings that are then peopled with 3-D models of female figures. She produces archival prints of the collages, but she envisions future mural installations of the work on the scale of a Mark Rothko or an Anselm Kiefer, allowing the viewer to experience the collages as a “whole-body experience.”
Thematically, Stevens’ work has always had a strong narrative focus, exploring issues of self and the spaces we inhabit in everyday life. Figures in her current Walking the Landscape paintings move through muted landscapes, conveying tension by suggesting the vulnerability of exposure along with
the strength that comes from facing and overcoming fears.
As well, “There is a fundamental commonality that we all share walking through the land, whether that is on the sidewalk in the city, in nature, or wilderness,” says Stevens. “There’s something deeply comforting about that commonality. In these paintings, I want to convey a sense of place, and how we experience the natural world as part of urban life.”
Her painting Zion Walk, for example, was conceived by the intensity of feeling she experienced hiking and drawing in Zion National Park in Utah and the symbolism it brought. “In the painting, I was thinking about accessibility, balancing the density and danger of canyons with the beauty of openness at the center.”
In Stevens’ Women & Mountains collages, the relationship between vulnerability and strength is explored further, heightened by the larger scale of the pieces and the multidimensionality of the work. “In Checking Yellow the figure of a woman peers around a corner, checking for what’s ahead: Is it safe? Is the path clear? which is what we instinctually do,” says Stevens.
Raised in Northern California, Stevens felt most herself hiking in the foothills and fog of the California coastline. “The feeling and views are deeply etched in me,” she says. Stevens feels a strong affinity for the works of California figurative artists Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff, and the California Funk Movement.
When she moved to Wilmette seven years ago with her husband Reed, a professor of Learning Sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, Stevens knew little of the Midwest, “visually or otherwise,” she laughs. To get acclimated, one of the first things she did was to hang an exhibition entitled Open and Free: The Library as Studio during Chicago Artists Month at the Harold Washington Library in October 2010. While there, she stumbled on a treasure trove full of the work of both famous and forgotten Chicago artists. Called the Chicago Artist Archive, the collection was begun in the mid 1940s by the art department at the main branch of the Chicago Public Library. By the time Stevens viewed it, there were more than 9,500 artists included, providing her with a dizzying snapshot of Chicago art and local artists.
“What surprised me most were the many suburban artists and the work they did outside the traditional ‘working artist’ realm that were included in the collection,” says Stevens. “I really love the idea of art in the public sphere and of making and showing art within their local neighborhoods and communities.”
With that in mind, Stevens is excited to be participating in two local shows this fall, one curated by Shannon Cahill/Art/En/Object at the Saw Room in Evanston, and the Terrain Biennial. For the Biennial, Stevens has organized, along with Evanston artists, a set of eight sites (porches, yards, and facades of local homes) on a walkable corridor in central Evanston. Stevens notes, “The Biennial is a great opportunity to build community. It is no surprise that the Terrain Biennial has flourished in Chicagoland, with its strong neighborhood identities and traditions of public art. I am taking a big step forward by bringing my painting and collage process to a large scale public artwork.”
For more information, visit: The Saw Room at thesawroom.com; Terrain Biennial at terrainexhibitions.com; Chicago Artists’ Archive at chipublib.org/fa-chicago-artists-archive/; and Shannon Cahill, ART/EN/OBJECT at artenobject.com.