Last year I created Drawing in the Moment with Minneapolis-based documentary drawer Anita White. The film is a short experimental documentary that explores her artistic process. As I reflect on the work now, I appreciate Anita's willingness to collaborate and for offering such honesty and vulnerability; it is the reason this short film is truly unique. I am excited for you to get to know her as she is a fun, inspiring artist! Not only does she draw every day, but she is also the co-founder of the League of Longfellow Artists (LoLa). This special interview captures in detail her background, what motivates her, and what she up to! Grab a cup of tea and dig in! After reading you will feel like Anita is a long, lost good friend by the end!
I really enjoyed making “Drawing in the Moment” with you. I want to my readers to know more about you. In the film, we definitely give some insight into your artistic process and show various people and experiences that have and are important to you, but who are you? What drives you as an artist? Why do you draw?
I seek to find meaning in everyday life through drawing wherever I am. Drawing has led me on many astonishing adventures and continually opens doors. Drawing is also a way to watch over someone and bear witness to their pain, struggle, wisdom and beauty. Drawing my way through a variety of challenges has helped me learn that, “Nothing is So Scary You Can’t Draw It!” I try to keep humor and wit foremost in my drawing life. Drawing allows me to really see with philosophy, humor and insight.
It is always interesting to me that so many people have never been drawn. But people are intrigued by it and usually do not mind being drawn. I notice that many people of all kinds and classes are surprised and honored to be drawn. It creates an indescribable bond that is connecting and deep.
Drawing is always a bit of a leap, no matter how often I start a drawing, it is a new adventure each time. Then once I start, I am in the drawing and it leads me along. As I draw I can really see. It is a combination of drawing what I see and depicting what I feel. I write a lot on my drawings and describe things or ask philosophical or humorous questions through words. My drawing life has opened doors and remains an inner and outer adventure. I often draw in lowly places where I am hardly noticed as I draw. Other times, people flock to my side, interested and intrigued by the drawing process, often wishing they were drawing too. I encourage them to start a sketchbook of their own.
I am moved to draw every day. Currently the beauty of spring inspires me as does my current work of documenting a day in the Life of Hennepin Healthcare (Hennepin County Medical Center - HCMC). I have had many inspiring and formative experiences in my life that led me to express myself through art. My art has been driven by the need to draw what I see and to tell a story with empathy and humor. Many of my experiences and journeys have shaped me in that way.
I draw with the cycles of the year. This includes a careful notation of the flowers as they open in season from crocuses to tulips and then lilacs and the 23 bushes of peonies that open in my yard. And finally, the glorious amaranth in late summer. I wait all year for this abundance and have named my home art studio: Amaranth Art Studio.
I also wait all year to draw and paint at the beach. I love to swim and seek out the lake waters every chance I can. Once the weather is good, I am there every day.My whimsical musing on this is that my summer triathlon consists of: swimming, painting and philosophizing!!
My seasonal drawing also includes honoring and drawing construction sites and crews hard at work. I am particularly drawn to crews doing cement work with the bright turquoise cement truck nearby. These drawings are done spontaneously. I try to keep a sketchbook in my car for that purpose.
When I was 22 years old I lived on a small island off the west coast of Ireland for 3 ½ years (1975 to 1979). I lived a simple life in the old thatched cottage of the storyteller who had lived there before me. While there I wove belts and wove myself into the traditional life of the islanders. I was there at a pivotal time. That life has vanished now. I documented my life there in small sketchbooks and paintings and also drew a traditional boat (curragh) from start to finish.
I had the opportunity to travel to Spain (1987), Mexico (1992), and Romania (1998). These colorful journeys were documented in the moment while there and culminated with many large paintings done in the wake of the journey. I painted from Mexico and Spain for about 15 years. My paintings from Mexico started out honoring the vendedoras (women venders on the street) and traditional dancers to painting markets and inner courtyards. My Romanian journey had similar themes. Some of the richest aspects of these journeys were my everyday sketchbooks that recorded my journey through time and ancient place.
I also had the opportunity to care for my aging parents through their later years and their passing. I drew my way through every doctor appointment, crisis and moments of memory loss and dementia. I wrote down and illustrated all of my father’s quips. Despite dementia, he continued to craft his language and I honored that. “I wish old age had picked on somebody else!” My documentary drawings of caregiving were shown in a show at The Wilder Foundation several years ago. I tried to publish this archive but so far have not found a place. Even though I felt how isolating caregiving could be I feel my archive of caregiving drawings has universal appeal.
My dear husband Josh and I have had many adventures in our long marriage. Our journeys to New York are well documented, but I have also drawn my way through his many challenging health crises’. This had led me on medical drawing adventures I never imagined possible and which has led me to my present work at HCMC.
I look after and watch over my brother who suffers from mental illness. Through being with him during fun times and challenges I have watched over him and drawn even the difficult times. When he has been hospitalized I walk the journey with him and try to express my feelings and find courage for both of us as he struggles. Drawing is how I bear witness to him and I also use it as a tool to watch over him and find hope and faith when times are difficult. He is a beautiful artist who also expresses himself daily through drawing and painting. I am also the caretaker of much of his work.
I was able to watch over and be with my dear lifelong family friend Heidi. For the past five years I watched over her and her husband. After he died Heidi and I grew even closer. She was a beautiful artist and mother of six. For the last few years I saw her several times a week and took care to record her wise philosophical musings and moments of humor. Heidi and I were always on the same wavelength. Age, time and pain disappeared as we shared evenings together of art, music and long philosophical talks about life. I miss her very much. Especially now in the spring as the lovely ephemeral flowers bloom that she taught me to love.
I was able to find my way to my ancestral Jewish roots in 2003. This long labyrinthian journey culminated in 2003. Along the way I drew my dreams and my inner process informed by Jungian analysis I was going through (1990 to 2005) I continue to use drawing and art to express the Jewish holiday cycle with its inner mystical meaning.
Ever since I visited Spain in 1969 I have loved flamenco and found ways to express this dance form through drawing. We are so fortunate to have the dance troupe Zorongo Flamenco here. I have documented and drawn them for decades. My archival show at Urban Forage Winery revealed these layers of emotion and duende. It is a deep passion.
Where can we find you online?
I am also an on and off again blogger. My current blogs are:
Are you from Minnesota?
Yes. I am from Minnesota. However, due to my parents being from other places I have always felt somewhat of an outsider to the culture here. My mother Emily (of blessed memory) grew up in the cultured city of Vienna, Austria. She grew up going to the Opera and speaking several languages. My father James C. White (of blessed memory) grew up in rural Texas. His father farmed and later became a Baptist preacher. I have ancestry on my father’s side that goes back to the Civil War. My great, great grandfather fought in the Confederate army. We have his letters.
So, my parents came from elsewhere. We did not have any of the rural farm background or Scandinavian roots that many other people have here. My family took many long train trips to Texas to see my father’s large extended family. It was like a journey to a foreign land that I treasured.
There is much about Minnesota that I love, But I feel my southern roots as I struggle to endure the winters here. I find winter great for my introverted writing and painting projects but dealing with it is a chore. However, I have done many of my best and most sustained work on long winter nights and it is often an internal and fertile time for me. After journeys to Mexico in 1992 and Romania in 1998 I found painting through the winter to be a particularly productive and fertile time for me.
What neighborhood do you live in now?
My husband and I have lived in Longfellow neighborhood for 12 years. We moved into this house on May 6, 2006. The crab apple tree in our front yard was in full blossom and symbolically welcomed us to our new life here in Longfellow.
I grew up in Uptown and we later lived in an apartment there for 17 years. It was so interesting to move across town to live in a neighborhood I knew very little about. It is amazing to be so close to the mighty Mississippi River, Minnehaha Falls, Longfellow Garden where I paint in the summer and Lake Nokomis where I swim every day. I also appreciate being near practical places like my local landscaping store, Walgreens, and the gas station. What I also love about my neighborhood are the community connections forged over the years. I love the close proximity of things here. In 8 minutes I can be up at Longfellow garden where I paint in the summer, or down to Minnehaha Falls for camaraderie with others or solitude along the winding creek trail. Despite the persistent development here I feel a wonderful connection to community and nature that gets better with time.
In 2009 Bob Schmitt and I co-founded LoLa (League of Longfellow Artists) with several other local artists. We administered it for five years and now other fine people keep it going. LoLa has been a way to be in community with other local artists and out of it have come opportunities, friendships and deep sustaining neighborhood connections.
How have you developed your career as an artist?
Thanks. Another great question. I have developed my career as an artist by paying attention through my daily drawing life. I draw wherever I am and try to allow myself to respond to beauty and challenges, with an empathetic heart and a light sense of humor. By following my deepest feelings to create I have been able to let outer things go so that I can focus on my inner feelings and philosophical musings.
I have tried to find a balance between everyday light-hearted drawing and deeper more sustained painting. I get a tremendous amount out of being present and connecting with those I seek to honor through drawing. As I mentioned earlier, my inner and outer journeys to foreign places or inner journeys with others have led me to fascinating places of observation and empathy. I tend to follow my creative intuition and allow my sketchbook to open its wings like a bird and allow me to fly into fascinating interactions or moments of deeply observed beauty.
How do you seek out art opportunities?
That is a very good question. I have thought about this long and hard. Over the years I have tried the linear approach of sitting down and writing a grant in the right font with appropriate attachments. I have also applied for many opportunities. Most of these do not work out for me. I am not cynical about that, it is just that over time I have found that my deepest opportunities and most blossoming experiences have happened intuitively and serendipitously. I will give you an example.
A year ago, my husband had many difficult and complex medical challenges. Some of these started out as emergencies where I had to call 911 and ride in the ambulance with him. I always dashed out of the house with my sketchbook and allowed drawing to hold me and carry me through every crisis. I drew in the back of the ambulance, in the front of the ambulance and in the ER. Through documenting I was able to keep track of medical facts, bear witness to my husband’s traumas, honor those who came to help and also seek the Divine Hand. Over many months I had accumulated a lot of medical drawings. I thought about submitting them through regular channels to HCMC. Instead after one particularly difficult time when Josh was just admitted to the hospital, I took a break to go draw outside under the blossoming trees. As I sat there a hospital accountant stopped to chat. I told him about my medical drawings. He gave me the name of an administrator who I was able to see the next day. I brought my drawings and all kinds of connections were made. Later that year I was able to have a show at Hennepin Healthcare (HCMC called “Drawing through Crisis with Courage and Humor.” A few weeks later I met with that same administrator and shared an intuition I had to “Draw a Day in the Life of HCMC”. That idea was received and is now funded. It has taken a while to organize the project on many levels, but it is now underway.
What I perceive is that “art opportunities” almost always happen for me in a surprising and yet illuminating way. Just yesterday I received a rejection for a graphic memoir about the time I lived on an island from 1975 to 1979. I roll with these rejections knowing that the next opportunity will be revealed in a mysterious way. Like an answer to a prayer.
What kind of advice would you give to an artist just starting out?
I would deeply encourage an artist starting out to get a sketchbook and draw every day. I feel that drawing is the most fertile way to be observant, to keep track of ideas and to keep daily creativity stimulated. I would also give practical advice to an artist just starting out. Get a tax-exempt number. Learn how manage your accounting books. Apply to local art fairs and be alert to possibilities. Above all, carry a sketchbook wherever you go and draw every day!
Please tell us what you are currently up to. Do you have any upcoming events or projects you are working on we should know about?
My current project is an offshoot of the many medical documentary drawings I have done over time. I am currently working on a project I initiated called “Drawing a Day in the Life of HCMC. The project involves drawing and documenting as many aspects of HCMC as possible. So far, I have drawn and documented a traumatic brain injury appointment that includes my version of medical drawings of the brain. I also drew an internal medicine appointment for routine blood pressure checkup and a series of drawings about acupuncture. Yesterday I had the opportunity to draw in pediatrics and drew a large family of seven ranging in age from 2 months to 17 years old. All of us plus a doctor, interpreter, and volunteer in one room! As I painted, two of the children painted with me.
This project does not have a defined destination yet. The project has a life of its own and will unfold organically. However, I do perceive that it will be shown publicly in the sharing of the drawings and also in an electronic form through Power Point presentation.my work at the hospital is very moving and important to me. I am fascinated to be drawing in a medical setting. I am curious about the complexity of the hospital and seek to find as many varied aspects to draw as possible, so as to give a sense of the whole.
I have drawn my husband Josh through many, many moments. I just resumed documentation of him as he still struggles with the challenge of chronic pain and other issues. By day he is fine, working on his projects, volunteering at the food shelf and visiting his friends. By evening and during the night he struggles with pain. I help him as much as I can but also bear witness to him through drawing. I draw in the early morning hours or at night when he finds rest. Today I drew him painting a door with our crab apple tree almost in blossom behind him.
Otherwise, I am swept away drawing the beauty of spring. As always, I use drawing to record my daily observations. At this time of year my drawings of spring coincide with the Jewish Omer Calendar. The Omer is a period of counting from Passover to Shavuot. I always use this time to draw and pay attention to the signs of spring; this inner spiritual calendar gives the work more unity.
My daily drawings vary. It depends what inspires me spontaneously in the moment.
Last Saturday I drew a Saxophone Quartet that gave a free concert at my local library. My daily drawing portraits have ranged from honoring a cook who was retiring from the nursing home I work at to spontaneous drawings of people in a waiting room that I gave away. Two days ago, I stopped to draw a construction crew as they poured cement.
MY CURRENT SHOWS:
(Note: My archival Flamenco Show at Urban Forage just came down)
Beach Paintings: A Mermaid's Musings by Anita White
BRAKE BREAD BAKERY
March 13 to Mid May
1174 West 7th Street Saint Paul
Art and The Spirit
I am showing my work “ Transition to Eternity” for my late friend Heidi Schwabacher
First Presbyterian Church
535 20th Ave South, South St Paul
June 10th to August 30th, 2018