Some of the oldest surviving examples of art are in the Lascaux caves of France: Paleolithic etchings on walls, awe-inspiring despite their simplicity. And 30,000 years later, this same simple desire to make marks drives Eleanor Annand.
From the sketchbooks she kept as a child to her career in graphic design and letterpress printing, “drawing is the foundation of all that I do,” she states.
Most significantly, however, her two years spent as a Core Fellow at Penland School of Crafts propelled her vision. She uses line subtly and enigmatically to create works on metal and paper.
Paring down took guts. “I think I had created roadblocks for myself based on what I thought people would think,” she admits, in terms of her turn toward minimalism. A Wilmington native, she attended NC State and received her degree in Graphic Design. She toiled in design and letterpress internships for years, constantly uprooting herself, leaving little time for the making of art.
Then Annand took a course at Penland in 2009, knowing she would be applying for the Core Fellow program, and was accepted in 2010. “It changed my life,” she says. “I learned to trust my intuition.”
Her work now certainly doesn’t scream “craft school.” A piece like “Pyre” is a whisper of a drawing, subject matter ambiguous. Set against a blank background that gives no indication of scale, it could be a pile of hay, long locks of hair, or a mountain.
Ultimately, conveying an identifiable image matters less for Annand, and mark-making matters more. “I didn’t expect to come out of craft school as an abstract painter, but Penland is actually very progressive. I had the support of so many friends and mentors who were invaluable in my growth as an artist.”
At the same time, Annand’s training lies in a field with an incredible sense of tradition — printmaking. Ancient woodblock carving, the hand setting and manual cranking of type used in letterpress art, both suggest the need for a precise, correct approach. Annand respects the traditions of printmaking, and employs them in her commercial work, yet learned as an artist that she needed to move in a different direction.
“I had to realize that working on paper didn’t have to mean making multiples” — as is the usual practice of printmakers creating editions. “While printmaking is indirect, drawing is a direct mark, which I found to be a more true, honest expression of myself.”
As Annand learned to work with metal plates in etching, it seemed logical to embrace metal as a surface. “The problem was I got too attached to the metal plate itself and didn’t care about making prints from it,” she says, humorously.
Such is the genesis of a piece like “Failed Logic,” a 2-foot-by-2-foot steel piece that features more identifiable imagery. From the mouth of a human head, seen lying in profile, sprouts a flower, which morphs into a heart and further changes into an unidentifiable form, circling around into the head, depicting a cycle.
Annand creates the drawing by scratching through layers of paint that she applies to the steel, using both an etching scribe for fine lines and sandpaper to abrade the surface.
And yet she calls figurative pieces like this “a sort of façade for what the works are really about, which is the pace and emotion of the mark.”
She feels more of an emotional tie to the abstract works, exemplified by “Decision.” A large square, it simply features a silvery X slicing through the dark metal grays of the rough, textured surface. The mark making, in combination with the title, insinuates a sense of finality, the implications of X as something negated, from which to move on.
Her metal works were the last exhibit she held at Penland as a Core Fellow, and though they were well received, she has since returned to paper as a medium. “It was just the right time,” she says, relishing every moment of having to coat paper in multiple layers of paint, alternating colors and values to be able to reveal the layers in the later scratching and sanding of the piece.
“Trap” is made on paper, divided into four squares, each quadrant featuring tiny bracket marks. These open triangles shift directions in each section, providing a clockwise motion for what should be a largely static composition. The piece becomes overwhelmingly about texture in both a literal and visual sense, with the title providing heightened tension.
A self-proclaimed introvert, Annand does not spill out the source of her imagery. Intuitive and methodical, she offers: “The way I think is in circles. There’s something about making art that turns it into more of a straight line, [so] I feel progress.”
Her work is on view at Penland Gallery and at Blue Spiral 1. When not in her studio in West Asheville doing design work, or teaching printmaking and letterpress at Asheville Bookworks, Annand can be found making art in the morning light of her basement window, creating what “feels right and honest.”