Finding Energy in Historic Photographs; Artist Anna Fidler

fidler_the-five-detailAnna Fidler finds energy in unexpected places. Sure, she sees it in nature, where the sun gives life to plants through photosynthesis, and in day-to-day exchanges between people. But she also sees it in photographs, especially those she unearths in historical societies.

“I’m drawn to photography because there is a moment where someone has clicked the shutter,” she said. “I’m interested that somebody did it, sometime.”

These photographs serve as inspiration for Fidler’s colorful works on paper, a selection of which are on display in Oregon State University’s Fairbanks Gallery through Nov. 2. An artist’s talk and reception will be held at 4:30 p.m. today during the Corvallis Arts Walk.

Fidler, 43, knew from an early age that she wanted to pursue a creative career. In high school, she secretly applied for a scholarship to the Interlochen Arts Academy, 30 minutes away from her hometown of Travers City, Michegan. Though she went to Interlochen to study creative writing, she loved her art classes and went on to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Western Michigan University in 1995. She received her Master of Fine Arts in studio art from Portland State University 10 years later, and in 2015 she moved to Corvallis to join Oregon State University’s art faculty.

Even as an undergrad, Fidler was interested in the transference of energy from old objects. She obsessively embroidered wool bathing suits from the 1920s and ’30s and spent an entire year covering a Victorian dress in stitching.

“I would always think about who once wore these,” Fidler said. “I can’t see that, but it happened, and I’m interested in it.”

As in old clothing, Fidler finds a physical manifestation of energy in photographs, which she thinks of as “evidence” of a particular moment in time.

“I get to carry it on, this moment, in my vision,” she said.

For Fidler, these photographs represent energy transferred over a distance, through layers of removal, and her artistic process involves additional layering. First, she washes a large piece of paper with watered-down acrylic paint. Then, she adds a layer of chalk paper. Next, she manipulates the photographs: she draws a small version of the photograph, sends the drawing out to be enlarged, and finally photocopies the enlargement in black and white before transferring it to the paper.

“I like it when things are not in my control,” Fidler said. “Someone else took the picture, someone else blows it up.”

Her process often degrades an image’s quality, which Fidler likes both because it forces her to creatively problem solve, and because it draws attention to what she considers the most important part of the photograph: its energy.

“I don’t care about the physical attributes—eyes, nose, mouth, that kind of thing,” she said. “It’s really about the energy.”

In the past, Fidler has created portraits of isolated figures on her washed backgrounds, but her current work centers around situating humans in context. The influence of her early embroidery work can be seen in this forested backdrop, where trees have maze-like bark and the ground is covered in delicate leaves.

A final layer in many of Fidler’s works is a three-dimensional stack of paper that she builds on top of the painting’s main energy focus. For the works in Fairbanks, this is often the human figures: women playing rock music, playing badminton, or plein air painting, all acts of energy that Fidler sees as transgressive.

“It would be a small act of rebellion that would slowly build for positive change,” Fidler said.

Anna Fidler’s work is on display at OSU’s Fairbanks Gallery, 220 SW 26th Street, through Nov. 2. She and fellow OSU art faculty member Julia Bradshaw speak about their work during a free public reception from 4:30 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 20 during the Corvallis Arts Walk.

By Regina Pieracci