Artist of the Week Colleen Anderson ’23 on Emotions, Memories, and Abstraction

I have a secret: I barely know anything about the artists before meeting them. Colleen Anderson ’23 was no exception. I saw Colleen walk into Kohlberg and compliment the barista making her coffee without knowing who she was. It was a small detail, but it was hard not to notice the sunshine she immediately radiated.

In only five minutes, Colleen told me about her first-year seminar, her experience with Professor Randall Exon, her time studying abroad in Paris, and her progression in abstract work. Fascinated, I wanted to learn more about her off-campus study. 

“In my semester abroad in Paris, I loved seeing Picasso’s sketches…and it was insane seeing his process. I also watched his videos about his inspiration…[for] art to connect with his inner child. That idea–that as a kid you have all of this creativity and lose it in maturity–I think suppresses creativity.”

Maturity also affected my artistic vision. I once saw the world as technicolored Lisa Frank novels, but when I got older, landscapes became realistic, muted, and passionless. I reacted to that change by creating a brightly-colored surrealist portfolio. So, when Colleen brought up her experience with maturation, I immediately wanted to know more about her shift into abstraction.

“My work had been impressionistic because I always loved the thick brush strokes, but I think I made the final leap into abstract art in my figure class. Randall gave me three huge brushes and three primary colors and told me to paint our model…a violinist. He gave me no direction, I just had to trust my gut. And I did. It was my first time trying abstract painting and it was exciting.”

However, when she showed her violinist painting to her family, she feared her grandma, in particular, would hate it. “My grandma used to love my more realistic work. I remember thinking she’d hate my abstract style, and she absolutely loved it. I thought everyone would want me to go back to realism,” Colleen said.

To her surprise, Professor Exon, her friends, and her family encouraged Colleen to explore her unique artistic voice. However, it was difficult for her to leave the perspective that realistic art is objectively ideal.

“The idea that realism was the only form of art was drilled into me ever since high school. Realizing that it wasn’t the only form of art was hard…It may sound strange to non-artists, but taking the leap into abstraction is scary, a lot of the time. There’s a misconception that abstract art is easier, but starting from nothing [concrete] is hard.”

When I saw Colleen’s violin painting, I noticed inescapable confidence, not insecurity. Her brush strokes were swift, intentional, and unwavering. She found her uniquely creative niche of thick paint and ambiguous forms. Her art portrayed life realistically because it was unrealistic, hazy, and colorful. 

“My art is not observational, it represents my family, memories, and growing up, but not romanticizing. And that’s super hard to do…My paintings don’t have to be a certain moment either. I painted how my room felt, but it doesn’t have to be my childhood room, it can be my current room, or future room…it’s just the emotion I felt while painting.”

There is something so objectively beautiful about Colleen’s perspective. Her pieces are original, personal, and genuine because she only portrays feelings. She wants viewers to feel something by looking at her art, whether it is her emotion or a completely different interpretation. 

“When I paint, it’s just from memories, or feelings. But, I don’t have a strong opinion on the viewer knowing what the piece is supposed to mean. It is completely up to you how you see it.”

Looking at the painting of her room, I feel comfortable. There is enough darkness and definitive line-making to define the amorphous, bright shapes. It feels perfectly proportionate, content, and peaceful but also slightly melancholy. Its beauty lies in its perplexity: it could mean everything or nothing. Colleen questions why art has to be categorized and finds ambiguity fascinating. 

“You have to ask: why do I think I can’t do [abstract art]? Why do I think that piece would be unsuccessful? I think the most interesting art is either something from your imagination or something you’ve never seen before.”

Or, a work of art from someone you’ve never seen before. Colleen argues for the importance of uplifting women artists’ voices. 

“I love the idea of women in the arts. When I go to a museum, I always try to examine artists like Shirley Jaffe. Looking at how women – and especially women of color – have been silenced makes me wonder how I can view art through their lens,” she said. 

Starting next year, Colleen has a computer science job with Goldman Sachs in New York City. But, she emphasized, she will wake up at 2 A.M. to paint if she must. She views art as a meaningful break from the stress of life and simultaneously an extension of herself. With her creativity and genuine excitement, I can’t wait to see where she goes next, whether it be collage or computer programming. 

As for me, maybe I’ll follow Colleen’s steps and find my original, authentic, artistic voice too. 

For those interested in seeing Colleen’s work, her Instagram handle is @tempest._art. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix

Discover more from The Phoenix

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading