Today we’d like to introduce you to Anna Iris Graham.
Anna Iris, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
When I was an introverted and creative teenager at San Diego High School, my art teacher recognized how devoted I was to making art, and she encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to the California State Summer School for the Arts, a one-month program for high school students at Mills College. All of these years later I am grateful to her for demonstrating that even though my family had economic limitations, I could still participate in many opportunities. The experience of attending that program really reinforced my growing belief that I could validly be an artist.
In my young adulthood, my paintings drew a community of creative people into my life, and at the same time drew me out socially in a way that would otherwise have been uncomfortable. I showed my work at some modest venues and was featured in Uptown News Magazine (San Diego) in 1998.
I graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 2002, and started a graduate program at USC—two days later. When I received my MFA in 2004, I returned to San Diego for family reasons. The unfortunate result of leaving Los Angeles was that I found myself severed from my art community. After fruitlessly searching for a job in a creative space, I resorted to more reliable and financially stable—but higher pressure—office work that would leave me with little time or energy to create art. A few years later I had my son, who would turn out to be autistic. I was at home with him during his first four years, and my universe revolved around supporting his needs. In 2012, I got divorced and returned to full time employment. So, for years I existed in a sort of exile from my artistic aspirations, unable to paint, and I felt utterly swept along in the circumstances of life.
In his youngest days, my son’s significant needs were the largest factor in my lack of creative and financial resources, and time. Surprisingly though, in 2016, my son was the one who reconnected me with my dormant creativity when he became obsessed with crafting projects that he saw online. He would dream up intricate projects and solicit my help to realize them: miniature iPhone made of popsicle sticks, Minecraft swords constructed from wood cubes, and foam, cardboard, fabric, and paint creations. His powerful and incessant drive to create was troublesome in school; he was off task most of the time while he used up all of the classroom sticky notes, pencils, and rolls of tape for crafting sessions. On the one hand, we needed to help him better focus on school work, but on the other hand, the creative energy of this little person was so infectious! For the first time in a very long time, I felt the rising excitement of new creations coming to life again as he and I worked on projects. Before I knew it, I was unpacking my stored supplies and building my first stretched canvas in years. I give credit to my son for leading me back to painting by simply being who he is. By honoring his need to create, I learned that it was just as important to honor my own creative life. I adopted the name OffTask Crafts, and now OffTask Studio for my art business as a reminder of the virtue of relentless creativity.
I have been earnestly working to bridge the artist I was when I finished my graduate program with the artist that I am today. I began with a single painting that I intended solely for donation to be auctioned off at my son’s school’s fundraising gala. I received a positive response, so the next year I made another painting, and then another for the third year. The response to the third painting was quite overwhelming and affirming. Starting with those paintings and building off of that start, I now have enough recent work for a small portfolio, and that is a significant and exciting milestone for me in this process.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I mostly work in acrylic paint on canvas. I also sometimes work in ink on paper, or ink and watercolor on paper. Lately my work features a lot of animals, especially birds. I don’t actually have any particular obsession with animals; rather, I love the patterns, gestures, and colors that I can work with when animals are the subject. (I jokingly tell myself, “put a bird on it!”) I have an emerging set of landscape paintings that I hope to start sharing soon. My canvas works incorporate a great deal of intuitive marks and use of color, often verging on abstraction. I enjoy building up a lot of color layers, and although my works are not cubist, cubism has had a lasting effect on my depiction of space. My subjects tend to not be isolated entities in themselves. They are often partially integrated into the surrounding space as expressionist, shifting, flowing, partially indeterminate forms.
My ink on paper drawings tend to be more realist, and allow me to spend more centered, focused time with meticulous detail, which I also enjoy. I love to paint because it develops my ability to look at the world in different ways than I might have otherwise; it enriches my experience of being in the world. I love that the practice is one of growing skills and knowledge. There are always new directions to explore, surprises in how things develop, and areas to expand and hone. I hope that my work provides viewers with a memorable visual sensation. The best result is that they find it engaging and need more than a brief look.
What do you know now that you wished you had learned earlier?
Most artists are overwhelmingly concerned with how to make money doing what they love, and unfortunately there is not a single solution or formula that will work for all of us. It has been helpful for me to listen to the Savvy Painter podcast; different artists speak about how they have managed this challenge. It’s inspiring to know that you aren’t alone in struggling to balance creativity with financial need, and you will likely hear some strategies that you hadn’t considered on your own. It’s also just a wonderful way to hear artists tell their stories, and most of those stories are completely captivating.
Other than that, I would love to see more artists supporting each other and connecting. It is easy to become isolated from others who speak a similar creative language. But ultimately, we can’t do this alone. And I suppose I’m also talking to myself when I say this, because it is hard to pull oneself away from the work for a little while to seek each other out. But life is better when we do, even if it’s just in small amounts.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?|
I have two pieces in juried shows here in San Diego in the next few months. The first one is at Ashton Gallery/Art on 30th, in the “Home & Harvest” show. The opening reception is Saturday, September 22, 2018, from 6-8pm, and the show will be up until October 20, 2018. The gallery is located at 4434 30th Street, San Diego, CA 92116. https://www.
- Website: www.annairisgraham.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/offtaskcrafts
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/OffTaskCrafts
- Other: www.offtaskcraft.etsy.com
Portrait Photo: Aaron Duggan