Anna Hepler is a local multimedia artist who has devised clever ways to make the most of her restless mind. “Borrowed Light,” a dynamic collection of her work, is on exhibit in The Gallery at the Rhodes Art Center through Jan. 19. Hepler, whose daughter is Lulu Calame ’23, recently spent time with students in visual art teacher Jamie Rourke’s Sculptural Forms class talking about her history, process, and how to explore authentic modes of expression.
The sculptures, prints, and photographs in “Borrowed Light” explore what Hepler calls the “awesome fragility” of a push and pull between organization and chaos. She explained to students that her studio setup reflects that dichotomy. “I have stations in my workspace so that I'm doing maybe four or five projects at once and often in different materials,” she said. “I go from one thing to the other. So sometimes, the materials I use are chosen just out of restlessness. But sometimes it's also just what's at my fingertips.”
Hepler has been making art since her teen years. She told the Sculptural Forms students that she fondly remembers the time she spent in the art classrooms in high school. “I was really into printmaking,” she said. “I also remember doing posters for school events. I was always interested in typography and design. So I guess, in those ways, I always wanted to find a way for art to be in the community.”
Several pieces in this exhibition suggest a continuity in Hepler’s work from these early interests. Her three inkjet prints in the exhibition are all rendered in high contrast, creating a print-like quality. Large-scale sculptures, such as “The Referee” (constructed primarily with plywood, paint, and ink), suggest the swoops and curves of an alphabet deconstructed. “I do often think about my work as a way of building drawings. It's like I'm building lines in 3D,” she said. There is an abundance of lines in “Borrowed Light.” Straight and curved forms intermingle, straddling a sense of the organic and the geometric.
The class spent time discussing how certain pieces in the exhibition also suggested divergent emotional qualities. Hepler believes that, if you allow it, personal expression manifests as naturally in art as it does in day-to-day activities. “We can't help but express ourselves in how we do things,” she said. “The way we make a salad is the same as what we do with our room, which is the same as our handwriting, which is the same as our work. So it's not so much that I'm deliberately trying to inject [the artwork] with emotion. I think it has a way of just being the natural by-product of what feels good to do.”
Several students articulated feelings that were elicited by Hepler’s abstract soft sculptures. Peter Villano ’24 described “Cradle,” a small fabric ball placed on a children’s chair, as conveying the feeling of a hug.
Students, with prompts from Rourke, discussed how everything from material choices to scale to installation style and other presentation choices can affect how viewers interpret artwork. They spent the second half of class time back in the studio with Hepler, chatting and getting advice about their three-dimensional wire sculptures.
Hepler’s visit was part of the RAC Gallery Artist Engagement Program, which brings artists into the classroom to work directly with students. “For many students, this was the first time they have been able to learn about the practice of art-making from a firsthand reference,” Rourke said. “Anna's emphasis on the promise of keeping an open mind, her willingness to embrace surprise and to take risks, all helped to motivate and inspire the students to begin new projects with confidence and curiosity.”
"Borrowed Light” is on view through Jan. 19, 2024. The Gallery is open to the public Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 8 pm, and Sunday from 1 to 5 pm.