One’s first impression of Anne Chesnut’s exhibition “Art.i.facts” at Les Yeux du Monde gallery (through April 7) is of rich colors, bold images, and dramatic compositions. On closer inspection, one sees interesting juxtapositions of images and it becomes clear something deeper is happening here than just fetching artwork. Information is being conveyed on a particularly cerebral plane.
Chesnut, who received her MFA from Yale has supported her artistic career through her work as a highly-esteemed graphic designer and her images have a polished quality that owes much to design. While drawing “remains at the core of what guides and informs my art,” she loves letters and numbers and switching back and forth between fonts, which confirms a lively cross-pollination between avocation and vocation.
Some of Chesnut’s prints are stand-alone works; she also produces series that range in number from three to 63. These vary from the elegiac “What Remains: Bolivar,” focusing on the destruction of Hurricane Ike to the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas, to the constellations (where her dogs, both living and dead, are immortalized), samplers, quilts and the “Summer Dressed” series. Within each print Chesnut combines disparate images taken from the wealth of drawings, photographs, and graphic elements she has produced over time. She uses animals and birds, constellations, seashells, flowers, and typography (with often autobiographical connotations) to create visually rich and enigmatic works that run the gamut from the microscopic to the astronomical.
“The sources of imagery and meaning for these prints are drawn from personal experience. My surroundings supply imagery, and my graphic work analyzing word and image, has introduced additional forms, symbols, and references.” She also draws on a rich science-based iconography featuring botany, ornithology, entomology, genetics, and astronomy and adds dashes of whimsy and political commentaries into the mix.
Using both familiar and exotic, even arcane images, Chesnut connects them much like a poet connects words, playing with the symbolic and visual links between them, achieving a kind of symmetry that expresses an awareness of simultaneous dimensions. The images and their interplay have an immediate visual appeal while referencing other more intangible concepts. Chesnut starts with something simple like a number, or letter, and runs with it. For example, the number four leads to heart chambers, blood groups, the four points of the compass and ink colors. A rose is a photograph of a rose picked from her garden, but also an amusing Chesnut-designed emoticon and a Gothic rose window. Like Chinese boxes, her works keep opening up to reveal more and more. Gallery director Lyn Warren said, “It’s very easy to enter Anne’s prints from different points. You can come at them from the standpoint of subject, concept, or visually. The more you look, the more you see.”
Chesnut uses both actual and faux stitching to divide up the surface. The hand-sewn approach has a practical side, enabling her to produce larger compositions, not possible given the limitations of printer size. But on a more symbolic level, she is stitching together not only the physical pieces, but also metaphorically she’s stitching the different concepts together. In some works she achieves a quilt-like effect and she has a whole series of “Samplers” (a modern version of “women’s work” according to Chesnut), which gives her ample opportunity to play with letters and numbers—key elements in traditional samplers.
The digital process allows Chesnut to merge traditional techniques with new artistic approaches. Working in the graphic design field Chesnut was conversant with emerging digital technology early on, and became interested in using it “to explore and exploit properties not previously available.” From the beginning, she saw digital printing as a means to make new discoveries rather than as an expediter of tasks. Once archival liquid inks and paper could be used in digital printing, Chesnut embraced the medium wholeheartedly.
It’s an equalizer of sorts giving the same visual weight, sense of texture and depth to, say a photograph as a drawing. Here, the end result is sleek and smooth. Chesnut says she’s interested in creating works “that push at the edges of what is possible with new media and seek to redefine old processes. Each individual print is a digitally manipulated composite that mixes traditional media, my drawings, prints, and photos, with images and symbols I have rendered digitally to make something entirely new from the images, patterns, colors, and textures.”
I must confess I was a little leery when I read “digital prints” while researching this show, but Chesnut won me over with her imaginative and innovative use of the medium. Her expertise with print technology enabled her to see its potential early on, and her strong artistic background means she uses it in a most creative manner, producing work that is visually satisfying and laden with significance. “It is my hope that the final images composed of many elements—whether old or new, detailed or abstract, anecdotal or scientific—will engage the viewer to find their own narrative or reaction to the shared images and experiences, whether true or fictitious.”
Through April 7/“Art.i.facts”/Les Yeux du Monde