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Local Artists Live: Anne Herbert + Wade MacDonald
January 23, 2021; 10:00 AM–10:30 AM CST
Above: Anne Herbert, Things Like These, 2020, acrylic and found objects on muslin, 20 x 16 inches; Wade MacDonald, FC – Other Side of Darkness No.1, 2020, porcelain, stoneware, wood, construction foam, acrylic paint, vinyl, 18 x 21 x 9 inches
This weekend Local Artists Live continues our focus on Birmingham-area artists, featuring husband and wife creatives Wade MacDonald and Anne Herbert. Both balance impressively well the line between creating original art and working as educators—Anne is on the visual arts faculty at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and Wade is a professor of art at the University of Alabama (UA), and each maintains active studio time and frequently exhibits works. In this art-resembles-life pairing, looking at their unique upbringings and how certain factors influenced their practices today shows a little yin and yang, leading these two to complement each other as artists and as a couple.
Anne grew up living mostly in Tuskegee and Auburn, had art both in and after school, and, as she recalls, spent a lot of her youth entertaining herself through imaginative play. “I think the improvisational nature of imaginative play has a direct relationship to how I approach my art practice now.” Especially when creating, Anne is a looker and a seeker, and although she never felt “particularly gifted” making art as a child, her interest was held by considering what makes a work successful. “I guess I became an artist because I never got tired of untangling all the questions that come up in art.” Exposure to art in her youth led Anne to pursue creative studies in college, and she earned her BFA in painting from the University of Montevallo and an MFA in studio art from UA.
Wade’s upbringing—which began in Tennessee but shifted to Michigan when his family moved there in the mid-1980s—initially put his artistic focus on music. His parents were opera singers before changing careers in the 1970s, but musical and creative influences remained in their home and lives. “There was always classical music and political radio in the air of my childhood home. I played string bass in youth symphonies for most of my young life.” Wade does remember drawing constantly, and later in high school he was influenced by an art teacher and the “wonderfully positive artistic energy” of her class. Wade went on to study art and art education at Western Michigan University and he earned an MFA in ceramics from Michigan State University.
When asked if it was art that brought the two together, the mutual sentiment is one of complementary understanding: Art is not necessarily what connected Anne and Wade, but it has played a powerful role in how the two understand each other and mesh. Each sees how the other brings balance to their own practice and vision, and recognizes the benefits to their own creativity. Anne appreciates how communicating with Wade about her art can help her understand it more clearly, and how her practice is more well rounded with the input of Wade’s perspective. Likewise, Wade feels “fortunate to be married to Anne [because she] has a completely different way of considering the meanings and motivations of works of art. Her philosophy about the role of the artist and her approach to making constantly causes me to reconsider and rethink the concepts, content, and materials tied to my practice.”
Read on below to find out more about each artist’s creative interests and inspirations, and tune in from 10-11 AM on Saturday, January 23, 2021, when they will share some of their art and offer a live Q&A with the audience!
This program is part of the series:
Meet the Artists
What is something you appreciate about life in the South?
Anne: I feel a strong connection to the landscape of the south. I love being outside, hiking and gardening. Where we live now is very near Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve and there are trails within walking distance of our house. The trails are abundant with fossils and rock formations that contain shell imprints and biological evidence from when Alabama was a shallow sea. This is fascinating to me, the way a place holds its history.
Wade: The food is great. Also, I am artistically inspired while being emotionally dismayed by the complex history of the South. I find that it is “ground zero” for so much of the current political conversation. I am heartened by the emergence of the “New South” discussed by Stacey Abrams and witnessed in the Georgia presidential election and senate runoffs.
What are some works of art in the MMFA’s collection that inspire you or speak strongly to you?
Anne: I remember seeing a Thornton Dial exhibition at the MMFA that expanded how I thought about image making. He merges image, material, and surface so harmoniously that you can forget to see them as separate elements.
Wade: I am not very familiar with the collection, but I did select a sculptural work that I find provocative: Twelve Degrees of Freedom by R. Buckminster Fuller. It is not hard to find meaning in this piece. I’m drawn to work that is technically impressive while being content rich, this sculpture possesses both characteristics.
What piece of art that you have created is your favorite, and why?
Anne: I tend to feel like a painting is my favorite right after it’s made, but only until the next favorite comes along. Presently my favorite painting is a small, mostly blue one that has red diamonds and white egg shapes that appear to be rolling around the surface. Like most of my paintings it doesn’t depict anything specific but seems to kind of hint at recognizable things or spaces. I like this painting because it has an ease, it’s gestural and delicate and embodies my sensibilities.
Wade: One of my favorite works is Marked Invitation: Blue. This sculpture was completed in 2016 and I find myself thinking about it often. It checks a lot of boxes for me as a maker and I see myself moving my practice back to these formal and material concepts in the future. I am also very excited about some of the functional pieces I’ve made recently. Functional art is an avenue I didn’t expect to explore. It is very rewarding.
Do you have an all-time favorite work of art, and have you seen it in person? If you have, how did you feel in that moment?
Anne: I love to encounter a Philip Guston painting. There is one that is sometimes on view at the Birmingham Museum of Art and another at the High Museum of Art. I always look for them when I go. His work is wry, raw, and seems eternally fresh. I feel like I learn something about painting whenever I see it.
Wade: Probably the Rothko Chapel at the Menil Collection in Houston. It is a structure dedicated to several Rothko paintings. It is a powerful environment and one cannot leave without being profoundly changed.
Tell us about your most preferred place to be on Earth. What role, if any, has the energy of that place helped shape you as an artist?
Anne: I love a swimming hole. I will visit a swimming spot at least once a week during the warm months. Being in the water, in nature, finding interesting rocks, searching for fossils and watching birds—these things are not unlike being immersed in a painting, creating forms that interact, building a diverse space and hoping something hidden will emerge.
Wade: Berlin is my favorite city. It has it all: incredible cultural institutions, architecture, layers of complex history, it is close to other cities like Potsdam and Prague. It still feels a little untamed in parts.
What drives your creativity?
Anne: Experiences, relationships, and the act of making all drive my creativity. I feel compelled to make because working with my hands and materials, giving physical form to abstract ideas is self-actualizing. Painting connects me to the world around me and teaches me about myself.
Wade: An inherent need to create. This is the question for the ages; the question that all artists are asking themselves each day/hour/minute. My creativity is driven by my own experiences, by passing through deftly executed architecture, by moving through quiet nature, by considering conversations with individuals who are long gone, by possessing a desire to change thinking that is antiquated.
What is your preferred medium?
Anne: I am a painter. I use inks and fluid acrylics primarily, and sometimes spray paint and found materials.
Do you listen to any particular music when you create?
Anne: I do like to listen to music and podcasts when I work. Lately I have been listening to a lot of true crime. This is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but I do feel like many of these stories are relevant to me as a woman.
Wade: Lately, political podcasts. If I want to focus: William Basinski. If I want energy: Battles
What advice would you give to beginning artists?
Anne: When you’re just starting out I think it’s important to make as much as possible and try to withhold judgement. Producing a lot builds skill and also helps to understand one’s instincts as an artist.
Wade: Be authentic, be true to yourself, allow yourself to fail, keep going despite failure.
What actions might we take in the state of Alabama to grow our appreciation of art and encourage creativity in our youth/for the future?
Anne: I think it’s about accessibility, by increasing the ways people encounter art/artists/art history in their community; it’s spaces and in the classroom [where] awareness and creativity can develop. When incorporated into the everyday art becomes foundational.
Wade: Alabama can support the arts in a more robust way by funding the arts robustly. Cultural institutions are the lifeblood of strong economies, not a result of strong economies. If a state supplies its citizens with educational opportunities (and funds them), a means to interact with art, and beautiful and well-considered spaces, everyone benefits.