Margaret Ann Withers made her CAMP debut at SPRING/BREAK Art Show earlier this year, where we showed some of her "LklMkls." Her sculptural works are representatives of "imaginary worlds that live in a solar system of chaos. They protect their inhabitants by being watchers, gigglers and wish granters, and they have boots to run like hell, if need be, from the ensuing chaos." Her creative processes and methodolgies have long been an inspiration to us, though we have so many questions.
You’re having a dinner party with 4 artists from any point in history—who would they be, what do you think the conversation would be about, and what would you serve them?
I would invite Hilma af Klint. I think she would be wonderful to talk to about how she went about reconciling her religion and the material world. The second person would be Leonora Carrington, a surrealist and activist who led a very interesting life. The third would be Helen Frankenthaler, an amazing colorist and someone who held her own against all that male ego of the abstract expressionist. And, finally, I would invite Alexander Calder. I think he would be delightful and funny.
In my tiny New York apartment we would sit on the floor, eat pizza, drink margaritas, and work together on an exquisite corpse.
Who inspired you to be an artist?
Early on, I saw some Joan Miró and Wassily Kandinsky paintings at a museum and I felt so gobsmacked… I felt them tug at me and speak to me. I wanted to know how the placement of paint and color could have such an effect on me. I wanted to know that language.
What is your favorite color?
I really love the color of the Mediterranean or Caribbean ocean. It just speaks to me. It feels like freedom. I also love orange.
When did you know that you were an artist?
There hasn’t been a time in my life when I wasn’t doing something creative, even as a child, I would pretend to be an old woman who made mud sculptures from the garden, and I was the only child at a neighborhood ceramic studio where I did weird assemblages of pre-made bisqueware. The knowing was always there, but perhaps without the label. The label itself came around the time of a midlife crisis where I sold everything and moved to New York city in order to ‘pursue my art’, and it’s around this time that I began to allow myself to declare publicly that I was an Artist.
What does your routine look like?
My primary routine is to paint during the week and work on sculptures on the weekend.
What came first: painting or sculpture?
The first creative thing I did seriously was photography. I had a darkroom in my laundry closet, in married student housing at CU Boulder, and I worked primarily with infrared film and Kodachrome 64 night shots. I then started to work on porcelain sculptures, and then moved to mixed-media paintings that had porcelain heads (in boxes) pushed into the canvas. Then to paintings. Now I work in both.
Where do you currently find inspiration?
I read a lot, and when I read I don’t see the words but, instead, I see the images. Right now I’m reading a memoir by Stephen King called “On Writing”, a Christopher Paolini sci-fi novel, and most mornings, my husband and I have coffee as I read to him from David Sedaris; I love starting my morning with a good laugh. I find a lot of visual inspiration in what I read.
About 6 years ago I started a daily meditation practice, the outcome of this is that I no longer feel much anxiety. Which is good, except that I realized that I had been using anxiety as a fuel to power me through painting. So, music has become my new creative fuel. I listen to a mix of stuff from 80’s rock to YoYo Ma to Phillip Glass. When I’m working on sculptures I don’t like to listen to music as it’s distracting to me.
What do you want the viewer to gain when encountering your work?
I want to telepath a hint of a story and engage the viewer’s imagination. I want to touch them in some way, even if it’s just to say “hey, here we are.”
Do you have any favorites within your own body of work?
I worked on my Adrift series while I was on residency at MASS MoCA [the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art] and from that, I painted a very large painting called Cowgirl Barracuda. The painting has a wintery frozen ocean and a large floating object in the sky that’s waving rainbow colored dots, and in the ocean is a floating large log with two women standing apart, a cowgirl and a housewife. The cowgirl is standing next to a Plymouth Barracuda; the housewife is leaning against a telephone pole. What the hell is going on? What is the absurdity that led to this scene? Where did they come from and how did they end up floating on large log in the ocean? And what is above them? I think that painters can be telepathic and this painting just begs the viewer to figure it out and assign meaning.
Which is your favorite museum, and which is on your list to visit?
The Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona, primarily because it has a lot of art by Miró and other artist whom I adore. There’s also an amazing fountain designed by Alexander Calder that flows mercury.
I would love to visit Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas. In the summer they have these outdoor events that look magical—and it’s American art!
Where is your favorite place in the world?
The first time I went to [the] Vermont Studio Center artist residency, I was walking to the dining hall for breakfast. There was about a foot of snow on the ground, and it was sunny. I had already been in my studio painting so my head was full of images and ideas, and I had the whole day ahead of me to paint and I felt so happy and alive; I felt free to be myself, my artist self.
What is the most important thing you have learned about being an artist?
Go wherever the muse takes you. If that means you end up with several different styles or series then that’s ok—the point is to keep making things, to keep growing. Always follow the creativity, because creativity produces more creativity.