Painter Ann Buss
Ann Buss is a figurative oil painter with a degree in creative writing who also works as the ACE Coordinator and Writing Center Supervisor at Bryn Athyn College. Another fascinating fact – she lived for 10 years in South Africa while raising her five children. She lives now in Bryn Athyn, PA and often posts images of her work on her Facebook page, Ann Buss Artwork.
How have the years you lived in South Africa influenced your artwork?
I started painting in South Africa because my youngest started going to preschool. I painted in watercolor for six years, going to a Durban artist for lessons. Then in 2007 I realized I wanted to learn oils, so I switched to Pascale Chandler. I saw her work at a show and I thought, “I don’t know who that is, but I need to learn oils from her.” So I got a referral from another artist and I sort of shoe-horned myself into Pascale’s studio. She was full, and said she didn’t usually take beginners, but she let me stay. I attended lessons in her studio from then until we moved away in 2010.
In South Africa so much is new–the country is sort of remaking itself in the wake of the end of apartheid–and to me the art scene felt wide open like that, too. A glorious freedom. Personally, I felt free too, because I had house help three days a week and I did not need to hold down a job for money and could devote myself to my art. I think I focused more on that than on family for a while. I also felt free because I was this American over in Africa who was sort of incognito or at least becoming a new version of myself like one does in a foreign land. I was at liberty to say I am a painter when before I hardly dared to say I am artistic.
I loved my art group and painting with them in Pascale’s studio in Durban. There were sliding glass doors open almost constantly, and a bricked patio under a huge avocado tree. At tea time (about 11am) we’d knock off for a bit and all sit around a table under the tree along with her orchids and have tea and cake. The other artists were doing good work, most of them, and the energy in that studio really worked for me. Pascale worked as a guide and a co-collaborator as much as a tutor. I learned a great deal from her. She knew how to say just what I needed. On top of that, her own work is fabulous.
Who are some of your artistic influences?
I used to go nuts for Matisse, and I do love him. I started loving the work of Diebenkorn a little later (and then found out that he cites Matisse as a formative influence!). I’m really interested in the way Marlene Dumas puts paint down, leaving thin washy layers for part of the work, and building up other areas. Lately, I’ve been inspired by Peter Doig for his willingness to use oil more like watercolor and let accidents happen and build on them.
Your figurative paintings tell such interesting stories. How has your experience as a writer influenced your work as a painter?
I trained as a creative writer, graduating from Dickinson, but at some point in the hurly burly of early child raising I realized that I didn’t really have any stories to tell, and that I always thought in terms of pictures or images. So I took Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain in Seattle and just kept going from there, making painting my main focus in life after we moved to South Africa.
Right now I teach college students how to write papers and the connection that makes to painting is to confirm in me that a writer or a painter has to pursue their work in similar ways. They have to start with an idea and pursue it and then evaluate how well it is speaking, adjusting the focus of the work or clarifying the focus as they go. In a written piece you might say, What is your point? or What is your thesis? I ask myself that when I’m painting, especially when trying to figure out what is bothering me about a work. Sometimes I only know an emotion it’s about, but that’s enough to know what to omit and what to highlight.
When/How/Why did you join MamaCITA?
I heard about MamaCITA through my sister Gillian, who has been a Mama for a long time. I was eager to find a group of working artists who take images seriously and feel art is important. My only regret is that my other commitments get in the way of painting sessions and even my own studio time.
What is your typical work day like?
I have a studio on the property and it’s a lovely haven, even if it does also house the family free weights and bench press. I get in there 2 days a week (when I’m not putting on any daughter’s wedding). I have to turn on the wood pellet stove in advance so the place can heat up. I have collections of photos, most taken by myself, and I often start out by doing some drawing from one of those that I’m interested in. I loosen up with some drawing and redrawing of an image so that I can get to know it well enough to start working some changes on it. Then I like to play with different ways of putting images on canvas. I used to always draw in on with paint and then go for layers of color, leaving the dark outlines showing. Lately, I am into putting down thick layers of gesso and working on that when it’s dry with thin washes of oil paint that I build up. There seems to be so many iterations of how you can put that paint down, and all I want is enough hours days and weeks to experiment with this!