Streetpainting.tv is pleased to provide an interview with Ann Hefferman, a well known street painting artist known for her beautiful floral and natural compositions.
Where do you live?
I live in Santa Barbara, California. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and came down here in 1975 to go to school at UCSB. Never left.
What is your occupation?
My full-time job is with the Map & Imagery Laboratory in the Davidson Library at U.C. Santa Barbara. It’s a geo-spatial library of maps, aerial photographs, and remote sensing images. I’m an office manager/supervisor/reference librarian without the MLS.
How did you first get interested in street painting?
An artist friend told me I had to try it. At the time my husband was involved with I Madonnari (Santa Barbara) because of the radio station he worked for. He let me be the station’s artist for one of the squares they had sponsored. It was 4x6’.
How many years have you been street painting?
I’ve been street painting for about 15 years. The first 3 or so were small, and then I gradually grew in skill and square size.
How often do you street paint?
This year I’ll do 8 events, most of them festivals but also a few small exhibition pieces for one client. Usually I’ll do at least 5 festivals a year.
Do you have a favorite subject in your street paintings?
Most of my work involves botanical subjects, but I look for beautiful color, pattern and form in all parts of the natural world. Lately I’ve been working more with marine life than terrestrial subjects.
Do you have a favorite artist whose work you like to reproduce?
I’m influenced by the decorative art works from the Arts and Crafts movement (Morris, Verneuil, and Voysey), the photographic work of Blossfeldt, the scientific illustration of Haeckel. Most of the time I’m doing original pieces with these and other sources in mind. I’ve done a few copied works of Martin Johnson Heade; his tropical landscapes with orchids and hummingbirds are mysteriously beautiful.
What is your favorite street painting you have worked on to date?
This is a hard one to answer. For a while it was a piece I did at Art Along the Rogue in Grants Pass, OR. But a year ago I did a piece with butterflies to commemorate the ‘flying away’ (and inevitable transformation) of our oldest daughter moving away to go to school. So for sentimental reasons I’d say this one, “Butterflies for Emily”.
What do you enjoy most about street painting?
The creative process and the camaraderie- I’ve made great friends through this art form. The reunion each time is always great.
How do you feel about the ephemeral quality of the art form?
Because of photography there is always a way to keep a piece of each one. But the ephemeral nature of the doing is what appeals to me most. There is so much packed into that short piece of time from inception to completion. The artist is challenged by the elements of weather, limitations of time, and by physical fatigue. Weather alone makes us all humble. We know that the quality of the work could be diminished by wind, or washed away in an instant. The process becomes as important as the finished work. The process involves the discovery inherent in studying the forms, coloring the piece, achieving a balanced composition, all within a context that allows for interaction between artist and observer. It’s the accessibility of the art that really appeals to me- that the artist is present to the observer while working. It’s a generous art form in more ways than one. It is temporal, the work is often done by volunteer artists supporting a cause, and the context allows for exchange and dialogue with observers, many of whom are other artists learning the craft. When it is finished there is great satisfaction. The work becomes an offering to that space of time in which it was created, made from colored dust, to return to colored dust.
What is the most difficult aspect of street painting?
The endurance required that invariably results in lower back pain. That and watching everyone else finish before me. I’m kind of pokey.
Do you ever compete in street painting competitions?
Most of the festivals that I participate in are not competitions. I don’t seek them out (competitions). It’s more about which friends are going and whether or not it’s worth my time to participate. Ultimately I will street paint whenever possible. Each time I am learning something and growing a little more as an artist. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t do it.
I prefer to draw just for the sake of drawing. It’s a luxury of uninterrupted time for me to create. But for economic reasons, some festivals believe that competitions draw greater participation.
If you have ever competed in Grazie, please let us know if you think it is an important competition in which to compete and why.
Grazie is important because it is the original street painting festival. It honors the historic roots of the art form. The town, the church the people are all so welcoming. Mantova is nearby and this city is an incredible treasure of art and architecture in itself.
Street painting festivals in North America all originate from Grazie, beginning with Santa Barbara’s own I Madonnari in 1987 (thank you Kathy Koury, our own visionary.)
Have you seen the popularity of street painting grow since you have been doing it?
Most definitely! It’s been great to watch this happen, and to be a participant. I hold a lot of pride because of Santa Barbara’s historic role as the seed for this growth.
In the past few years there has been a fascination with the anamorphic, “3-D” work, and there has definitely been a spike in interest, because of the internet. These works really have the potential to get the audience involved. I’m most interested in the artists who have the ability to balance the gimmick with the skill of rendering a beautiful painting, ultimately including the audience as part of the piece. Then there are the exquisite portraits, the reproductions of masterpieces, and innovative original compositions. It’s a rich playing field with amazing, abundant and emerging talent. Every time I street paint I encounter people who have never seen this art form before. People talk about it, take pictures and share them with each other, “spread the word”. I think the popularity will continue to grow and people will never get tired of seeing new works.
Are there any young street painters that you feel are “up and coming”?
I’ve been keeping my eye on Evan Bissell, not only because of his talent but because he keeps the generous spirit of the medium alive. And my friend Lily Witherell who is 9 years old and unbridled in her enthusiasm. The beauty of this medium is that it fosters and nurtures the artistic expression in each of us, no matter what age. I can’t answer this question fairly because of the wealth of undiscovered talent there is out there.
Do you know any itinerant street painters?
I consider myself one among friends.
Why do you think there are less itinerant street painters now than there were a decade ago?
Unfortunately the reasons are economics. We can’t afford to drive or fly to every festival. Depending on location, as long as it doesn’t cost us much or anything, and it works with our schedules we will probably go.
What are your views on street painting as a contemporary art form?
Because of its inherent accessibility, especially to young people, I feel very strongly that it’s a vital and critically important contemporary art form. It engages, inspires, educates, informs. The more we can touch people with that the better.
How do you feel about experimentation with the street painting art form with new methods of artistic collaboration other than the traditional?
In the last several years I’ve seen, and had the privilege of participating in collaborations with artists from other countries. In Santa Barbara we have been working with our Sister Cities to introduce them to street painting and establish a cultural exchange of artists. I’m pretty excited about that. There’s also a growing interest in corporate sponsorship, using street painting as a promotional tool. It’s a portable and public medium that as a type of performance art can be done in all sorts of places, on asphalt, canvas, board, etc. What makes it unique is the visibility of and accessibility to the process.