I once spent an afternoon with Anna Redwine at the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden, attempting to draw the colorful perennials in the Annual Display of Plants. Anna, a New Orleans native and a student in the Masters in Fine Arts program at the University of South Carolina at the time, brought an arsenal of colored pastels, pencils, and variously shaped canvases. She thoughtfully spread them out on the warm brick, and helped me hunt for images to represent.
A total amateur, I struggled with perfecting shades and lines in a muddled mess, all the while wondering what concerned her – how she saw the bountiful Southern Magnolias and the intricate Gloriosa Lilies; how ridiculous she thought my disproportionate rose drawing was. No matter how silly I felt or how horrible I audibly berated myself for my lack of talent, she made me feel like I was Monet at Giverny. After seeing her body of work – which has exhibited in Columbia and New York City – I realized that she meant every ounce of encouragement she spilled. She was just as ardently trying to see the landscape through my eyes and to identify with my world. Simultaneously, she was capturing the perspective of the life in that garden as if she was a part of it.
“If I have to choose one rule, it’s to do my best to inhabit the experience of other things and other people,” said Anna, who is now on staff at USC’s Walker Institute of International and Area Studies. “When I see a butterfly, for instance, it’s not just that I think about what it’s physically like to have wings, but to have a lifespan that has x amount of days, or to live in just one small area of land; I think about how that refreshes my experience and then I go back to my life and I appreciate it for my face value.”
That rule inspired “Anna Redwine: Life in One Breath,” and “April Drawings,” exhibited at 80808/Vista Studios in October 2006 and April 2007, respectively. Influenced by her studies of Asian art and her work with Czech painter Pavel Rouchka in Frauenau, Germany, these carbon renderings on 24 x 28 inch birch panels almost entomologically represent single moments in the existence of small animals and insects.
“I complete each drawing in a minute or two as I’m watching the animal— they’re strictly from life,” she explains on her website, www.annaredwine.com. “When the animal moves, so do the marks I make. If the animal leaves the drawing is over. In East Asian calligraphy this approach of creating a work of art in one sitting, never to work back into it is referred to as painting in ‘one breath.’
Truth be told, Anna doesn’t spend much time at botanical gardens like the one we toured for our “artist’s day” – a term she respectfully coined more for my benefit than hers. She waits for her subjects to come to her.
“The most interesting experiences are something that happens inside (my house),” she said. “If there’s a spider in the sink, I don’t want to kill it or have it bite me … or watching a tiny, tiny insect on my arm and realizing that my arm is its habitat.”
While human relationships with nature will always be part of her scope, Anna said she is shifting towards a focus on “the wonderful world of people.” Like the mosquitoes and ladybugs that have fortuitously landed on her wrists, some of those people have also found her.
Sligh Films recently commissioned Anna to draw original artwork for the film “The Four Children of Tander Welch,” the story of a hospice worker charged with locating the three daughters of Welch, his ailing patient. The colorless, images (also displayed on her website) capture the heavy introspection of the subjects, who are grappling with the decision of whether or not to connect with their estranged and dying father.
Anna’s portrayal of Rebecca, one of the daughters, is particularly stunning. A carbon on panel drawing of a young woman perched sideways on an armchair with an ignored book on her lap, pensively staring into nothing for answers, exhibits Anna’s ability to identify with the many human conditions. That is no easy task, whether it’s for people or animals.
“During the best drawing experiences, I feel in my own joints the way their bodies move and I am able to predict decisions they make as they interact with their environment,” she explained to 80808/Vista Studios Curator Wim Roefs for the “Life in One Breath” exhibition catalogue. “At these times I view the animal with empathy as another living thing. In Costa Rica I was taught the phrase, sort of a national motto, “!Pura vida!” Pure life. That’s my ambition in art.”