Each year, Contemporary Forum, a Phoenix Art Museum support organization now in its 30th year, awards one grant to a mid-career artist working in Arizona. Selected from a competitive pool nominated by a member of Contemporary Forum, the recipient creates a new series of work exhibited in a solo show in the Museum. The grant provides financial support that enables the artist to push the boundaries of her creative practice.
For Annie Lopez, her creative practice began with photography. With her first Kodak Instamatic at 13, Lopez, who preferred to be behind the camera rather than in front, began her own art practice in a family of creative people. “Everyone in my family could draw, especially my dad, but I struggled with stick figures.” What she lacked in drawing ability, she had in spades as a photographer.
Lopez creates work that tells the stories of her own experiences and history. “Whenever something troubles me, I put it in a piece, hang it on a wall, and then, I can let go of it,” Lopez says. When dwelling on a painful text message exchange with a family member, Lopez half-jokingly told Sara Cochran, Ph.D., curator of modern and contemporary art, “I’m going to sew those texts into a dress.” Cochran looked at her, and said, “That’s exactly what you should do.” And thus, the inspiration for the new series was born.
The upcoming show will feature more than ten dresses Lopez has created from old patterns. Lopez prints her cyanotypes herself, each sheet taking between 20-25 minutes, with each dress comprised of 20-30 sheets. She sews the sheets together to form material from which she cuts her patterns. The dresses turn the two-dimensional cyanotypes into brilliant blue sculptures, each with their own themes that connect directly to profound moments in the artist’s life.
Another dress captures her father’s unsteady handwriting and sketches made while he suffered from Alzheimer’s. His name, Frank, appears, along with a few sketches. Annie finds her own name, misspelled as Anee, near a seam. Carrying around this tremendous loss has been a heavy weight. “But now it’s in the dress,” she says thoughtfully. “I don’t have to carry it with me anymore.”
The showing of her work will be a meaningful experience for both Annie and for Museum visitors, who can share in the history, growth and humor of this compelling, influential Arizona artist as she sews her stories and photography into life.