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Anne Buckwalter: Deliberate Ambiguity and Conscious Purpose

Intentional Vagueness

The US-based gouache artist Anne Buckwalter combines space, symbol, and figure to offer an unsettling and allegorically-rooted insight into the nuances of human behavior. Intentionally obtuse spaces and moody female figures are often seen engaging in the unclear and mysterious activity, creating an open narrative to “create a dialogue about how socially-constructed expectations of women are defined and disrupted.” Her endearing and textured gouache style is gorgeously reminiscent of the Early Netherlandish Renaissance, with thoughtfully-built spacious backgrounds combined with ambiguity and surreal suggestion, much like the works of Hieronymus Bosch.

"Allegory of Hazards" by Anne Buckwalter, gouache on paper, 2017

Anne grew up in Pennsylvania and went to study at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Attending college kindled Buckwalter’s love for painting; “I took some oil painting classes and got interested in doing different things with the medium – I liked how the paint felt on the brush, and I was probably guilty of romanticizing the material.” This experimentation gave birth to her intelligent play with empty space and scale to “invoke a kind of tension or moodiness”. A conscious decision to switch oils for a more affordable gouache paint was a turning point in the artist’s journey. Gouache was a considerable catalyst for her artistic development; Anne started to leave paintings intentionally unfinished, “and since then I’ve played around with a variety of subject matter, but have stayed pretty consistent in having this intentional vagueness as a central theme of my work.”

"Communion" by Anne Buckwalter, gouache on paper, 2018

Buckwalter states that her process contains “a lot of premeditation and overthinking, and then pretty rapid execution.” She is very inspired by her Pennsylvanian roots and the particular decorative quality of traditional German folk art and Fraktur and artists like Hieronymous Bosch and Jan Van Eyck. She seems avidly drawn towards “the mix of piety and absurdity” in the folklore and the works of her favorite artists. The wide variety of inspiration sources have come together with Buckwalter’s undeniable dedication to her craft, enabling her to execute visual questionings around gender roles, social constructions, and female identity.

"Low Creeping Vine" by Anne Buckwalter, gouache on paper, 2018

Lately I’ve been thinking about shame and silence around female sexuality, and how to come up with new ways to interact with those things. I like the idea of finding ways of approaching difficult subject – I’m interested in using my work to make room for disparate elements to coexist in one space – joy and humiliation, playfulness and despair.”

"Shut Eye" by Anne Buckwalter, gouache on paper, 2019

As an artist in today’s world, Anne Buckwalter acknowledges the challenges of the trade. Her awoken eyes have recognized the trend of artists commenting on the current socio-political climate and lack of representation. The artist is hopeful that the bias in the art sector will change; “the art world favors those who are white and male, and it under-represents LGBTQ folks, people of color, people with disabilities, people with neurodiversity, and women. That needs to shift. I hope it can. So I guess I oscillate between hopeful and not so hopeful and then back to hopeful and I try to stay there for as long as I can.” Her deliberate ambiguity, eerie use of void space, and suggestive moody figures are certainly contributing to breaking down stigma and under-representation of minorities, along with uprooting the comfortable perceptions of the viewer. It seems as long as artists like Anne Buckwalter continue their craft, the recognition of voice is inevitable.

All images copyright of Anne Buckwalter

You can view more work by Anne on her Instagram and website.

Article written by Kate Smith

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