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Sunday, March 7, 2021

UD Artist Spotlight: Colleen Anderson

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Colleen Anderson
Courtesy of Colleen Anderson/THE REVIEW
Artist Colleen Anderson finds inspiration in a variety of sources, from current events to authors.

Staff Reporter

Activism is not only impacting the nature of American society as a whole; it has also been a huge platform for senior fine arts major, Colleen Anderson.

Anderson got her start in art with photography, doing chores for her mom to raise money to buy herself a camera when she was little. Since then, however, she works predominantly in illustration and turning her illustrations into digital art.

“I like to describe myself as a ‘maker’ because I can really translate my style into any medium,” Anderson says of her work as a whole.

Her work in her high school art department with software such as Adobe InDesign was what put her on the digital art track. Her online presence on Instagram (@/coolbeenart) consists predominantly of digital art, especially since the COVID-19 quarantine began.

“Quarantine digital art was the only real escape for me because we couldn’t see anybody, so making stuff and posting, it’s fast, easy,” Anderson says.

Anderson sticks to digital art with her online presence, but she describes a much more varied interest in art across all genres when she is “just Colleen.” She explores mediums such as sculpting and painting when she’s in class and on her own.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slightly interrupted her exploration of these mediums and her learning as a whole. While she was able to grow in her personal art because she had the time to “hone in” on what she likes to make and connect with people during quarantine, she has struggled with her classes moving online this past spring (most notably her sculpture course and “Darkroom Photography”).

“I struggled especially with the physical art classes because the most valuable thing in the art class is in-person critique,” Anderson says. “Having a room filled with everybody’s things, going around for three hours… that you can’t really get from a Zoom session. You have to be in person, looking at somebody’s art up close. I lost that because of COVID.”

It not only seemed to highlight the value of those in-person critiques, but the lack of facility-use that the students had. Not being able to go into those studio spaces impacts the way students create and what they are able to do. It did, however, force students to think outside the box.

“I used my sister’s feet as prints one time,” Anderson says. To make up for the lack of silkscreen for screen printing, she put ink on her sisters feet and used them as stamps.

Anderson’s digital art has become activism-focused this year. Anderson was angered by what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as well as other social justice and politically-charged issues that received a lot of attention over the summer. She took it upon herself to do her own research and educate herself on the Black Lives Matter movement and specific aspects of the movement, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health.

Anderson had a small following on her art Instagram account at the time, with approximately 2,000 followers, but she wanted to share what she was learning and illustrate it.

“On Instagram, you have three seconds to hold somebody’s attention or else they’ll keep scrolling,” Anderson says. “There’s always something else to look at.”

One of her more notable pieces was an infographic she made on the difference between “systemic” and “systematic” racism. The post on Anderson’s page is a dark periwinkle color and includes five frames, two of which describe in detail what the words “systematic” and “systemic” mean, one highlighting the difference between the terms and the final one using them in the context of racism.

“The word is ‘systemic’ and not ‘systematic’ when talking about ‘Systemic Racism,’” the final frame states. “It doesn’t exist as a result of the system, it IS the system.”

“While I didn’t have a lot of money to donate and I couldn’t physically go to the protests, I just used my skills to just join the conversation and be a soundboard,” Anderson says. “I did my own research and joined the conversation in the best way I knew how, which was creating art.”

She highlighted that it was a major learning experience for her, especially in figuring out the best way to get Instagram users to interact and engage with her posts. At the end of the day, her main goal was to educate people on the issues at hand.

Anderson has also begun watermarking her work, especially following an incident with pop artist Demi Lovato. Lovato reposted one of Anderson’s graphics on her Instagram story. However, because there was no watermark on the graphic, Anderson had to Direct Message Lovato and ask her to give credit. While Lovato never got back to Anderson, it enforced for Anderson the importance of watermarking her work.

Anderson has recently taken time off to refocus on her schoolwork, but is planning to start creating again this winter.

The process of creating art is also very important to Anderson, not just the final piece. This is evident in one of her favorite pieces, a mural she was commissioned for on STAR Campus, which features many faces to represent inclusivity. You can see her piece on the fourth floor of the STAR Tower.

“It’s simple line drawings of faces, about 16 of them on one foot square canvases on the wall, and I varnished them so everything is very clean and very neat,” Anderson says.

Anderson says she’s sought out for her illustration style for her commissions. However, she takes on what she’s most interested in at the time. Currently, it’s digital design.

She was commissioned by model Nouri Hassan of Xyne Casting in New York City. Hassan runs a network for BIPOC to have a database of creatives in the BIPOC community that they can get into contact with. Hassan took Anderson on to design the imagery for the website (http://bipoc.network/).

“I love seeing my work live in different places,” Anderson says.

This also comes into play in major career and personal goals that Anderson has. Anderson says that she wants to work with the Philly Mural Association and do murals as a form of activism.

Short-term, Anderson hopes to move to Philadelphia, a creative and fast-paced city that is deeply rooted in activism, where she also has connections to get her started. Long-term however, she wants to move west and vows to put a mural in each city she lives in.

“I really want to bring it into the real world,” Anderson says of her activism work.

Another one of her favorite pieces is one she entitled “Jazz.” Anderson worked in an almost reverse order, where she laid the black lines that usually outline the figures first and implemented color after, creating a slightly inverted effect.

Anderson has been venturing into more permanent forms of art as well. Tattoo designs and album art have been on her plate recently. Her very first tattoo design was a simple line drawing of a magician levitating a woman. It is now on the thigh of her classmate from middle school. She says she thinks about the design often and the fact that it is on that person’s body forever is crazy for her.

Anderson has also done album art for rappers and other artists who have reached out to her via Instagram or who are Delaware-based. Her favorite album art was a piece she did for a university graduate, Emma Engel, whose Spotify cover Anderson also designed.

While Anderson’s album artwork is mostly with up-and-coming artists, she does have her eyes on the big leagues. R&B and hip-hop artist SZA follows Anderson on Instagram, and they have even conversed via Direct Messaging. Anderson hopes to work with SZA soon.

Part of Anderson’s process when creating album art is to listen to the artist’s music while creating and interpreting the music in her own way. She also hopes to utilize photo editing in her album artworks in the future in tandem with the illustrations she already does.

Anderson’s appreciation for the artistic process is also evident in the historical art era that has been most influential on her art. The abstract expressionism style as it developed in the 1940s and the painter Arshile Gorky, whom she considers her favorite painter of all time, influenced her artistic perspective. While the style of abstract expressionism isn’t her favorite, she appreciates the process that a painter goes through to achieve that style.

Anderson emphasizes greater connections with the medium as opposed to the subject.

“It’s just really moving paint on a canvas, dealing with colors and how they look next to each other, textures, not really so much what the image is, just how you make the image,” Anderson says.

That time period for art as a whole is another major influence on Anderson’s art. With technological advancements and the resulting free time that characterized the 1940s and in the 1900s in general, art became seen as more of a luxury. As a result, artists became more creative in their artistic endeavors, and Anderson is inspired by that cultural and historical turning point.

She has many other art influences that range across multiple mediums and even into authors like Lemony Snicket, Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl who spurred her imagination and inspired Anderson to illustrate scenes from their stories in her head.

Other artists like British illustrator Shantell Martin, who Anderson says has an art style that is similar to hers, notably in line drawings and faces, as well as artists like Eva Hesse and Jean-Michel Basquiat, are favorites of hers.

“I could literally sit here and go on and on about all my favorite artists,” Anderson says. “Honestly, my favorite artists are my friends. I’m really inspired by my friends. The people who make music, the people who make illustrations… the people that I’m around are who I’m most inspired by; my professors and pretty much just the community are who I’m most inspired by.”

Aaron Terry, a professor whom Anderson did research with, had an especially strong influence on her. Terry works with sound, screen printing, sculpting and mixed media. A lot of his work has a political backdrop and some focuses on global politics.

“Politics and art go hand in hand,” Anderson says. “They exist together.”

The history of art, Anderson noted, is rooted in politics and activism. She sees the creation of political and activism art as almost a “right of passage” and that art should always be not just for oneself, but other people and a higher purpose, which she feels Terry helps her with.

She also notes Terry as the most impactful professor she’s had at the university and feels that they have “personal creative connections.”

“He really pushes me and inspires me to do the activism thing because he is so political in his own work and he’s so proactive with having a theme and having a message in his art,” Anderson says. “I have very creative connections with Aaron. I hope to keep that after I graduate, and I want to keep learning from him and keep seeing how he interprets the world and uses his art to be a part of the larger conversation.”

David Meyer, the head of the sculpting department, is also another one of Anderson’s influential professors and is responsible for her favorite course.

“He really, along with Aaron, inspired me to take my 2D work and make it 3D or to envision it in a physical world instead of just on paper or online,” Anderson says, thinking back on the three semesters of sculpture that she did. “Sculpture really allowed me to think outside the screen and practice my installations and really think of work as using all of your senses.”

Anderson has a sculpture installed in the Studio Arts building. It’s a bike wheel that can be moved and features two faces where one is always upside down.

“It really takes care of all of your senses. You can touch it and move everything, and I love sculpture in that way,” Anderson says.

She felt it almost “broke her out of” her usual 2D work, but has also helped in her painting as well. Physically creating the layers in sculpting helps Anderson figure out the layers in painting and even in Photoshop.

“The more I expand my skill set, it helps in every other skill I have. It’s more of a mutual thing,” Anderson says of the relationship between her 2D and 3D work.

The community of students at the university, not just art students, is very important to Anderson. She values the connections she can make with students outside of art, such as in the fashion department or the engineering department. She wouldn’t have been able to get that at a traditional art school. Anderson also appreciates how small the art department at the university is because she feels that she gets a better connection with the faculty and their personal work.

“I’d much rather be a little corner of the University of Delaware instead of in a larger pool of makers,” Anderson says.

Anderson says that it’s difficult to be an art student, especially during a global pandemic, but for fellow artists, she maintains an important piece of advice.

“Just keep doing stuff every day; make it your thing,” Anderson says. “You will become that, and it will become you. Just do it every day.”

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