From August 6 to September 3, 2017, former St. Kate’s art student Annie Hejny lived in Lanesboro, Minnesota, as an artist-in-residence with Lanesboro Arts. Her residency, sponsored by the Jerome Foundation, is specifically for emerging artists to have their first residency and a focus on community-based projects.
As an abstract painter, Hejny has been profiled in several publications for her nature-based art and her involvement in the Twin Cities arts community. Local bodies of water such as the Mississippi River form the basis of her abstract paintings — literally. Water and soil provide her with both inspiration and medium, since she utilizes them in her paintings.
Following her graduation with not one, but two degrees under her belt — elementary education from St. Thomas and studio art from St. Kate’s — Hejny’s post-college career took her from the Twin Cities to a brief stint in L.A., back to Minneapolis–St. Paul, and then a year in Chicago. Fall of 2014 found her finally back in the Twin Cities, where she’s been active in the arts community ever since.
“It’s rewarding to see a studio art graduate move into a successful career,” remarks Carol Chase, chair and associate professor of the Art and Art History department. Chase served as Hejny’s advisor. “I am impressed with how Annie has worked to marry her content with her technique — an enviable place many artists endeavor to attain — as she continues to grow and develop.”
Todd Deutsch, associate art professor, taught Hejny’s first art class at St. Kate’s and shares Chase’s sentiment.
“The skills that made Annie a fantastic student are the same skills that make her a fantastic artist,” he says. “There is a fearlessness about her approach that is impressive. It is a refreshing, fearless optimism that she has used to create her path from student to working artist, making opportunities for herself along the way.”
When it comes to making opportunities for herself, Hejny has found success. Besides her cross-country ventures, she is owner and curator of gallery three [sic], a garage-turned-pop-up art gallery. Between her business, exhibitions and commissioned projects, it sounds like Hejny could have used the Lanesboro Arts residency as an opportunity for some rest — but you won’t catch her idling.
“This residency definitely wasn’t a retreat,” she says. “It was about relocation and new collaborations. And people.”
In addition to Hejny’s answers below, you can read more about her artistic process and background in her recent MPLSart profile by Andrew Ellis.
What does your residency with Lanesboro Arts look like?
From the beginning to the very end of this residency, the Lanesboro community and I have have collaborated, incorporating their stories and guiding them through my creative process. Community members were invited to an event I hosted at the Root River and joined me in painting the foundational layer. I then took those back to my studio and completed them in my usual style and technique. I presented the paintings at a capstone event where the final step of their involvement was to offer title suggestions.
How has this residency impacted you as an artist, especially given the community engagement?
The first few days, I was just getting to know the river and the town, listening to stories of the people who live here. It was more teaching-based for me. I organized and hosted different events throughout the month, wanted to make authentic connections in this new community. I painted more quickly than I do back home because in Lanesboro, I engaged in conversations with people throughout the process rather than just working alone. I’m connecting with the beauty of the land and the people. It’s quite a place to work and to be away, and to take another step in my career.
At that same time as you pursued an education degree at St. Thomas, you pursued a degree in studio art at St. Kate’s. What about the St. Kate’s art program hooked you?
It was an open space for expression. I took the introductory class, “Two-Dimensional Design,” with Todd Deutsch, and it became clear that I was welcome to explore whatever creative ideas I wanted, within the contexts of assignments and different materials.
Also, all the professors in St. Kate’s art department were amazing to work with. They were supportive of each student’s voice. They were new role models for me, since they themselves were working artists as well as teachers. I connected to that right away — the feeling that I could be in a classroom and be an artist at the same time. It was eye-opening for me.
How did you develop as an artist during your time at St. Kate’s?
By the time I graduated, I felt like I was an artist and I wanted to claim that as part of my identity. It's cool that the foundational skills I learned in the classroom are applicable to what I’m doing every day as a working artist — when I build my canvas stretchers, take reference photos at the river or make intentional color choices. The variety of courses a student will take throughout the program make it a broad and rich experience. St. Kate’s art department has it very well figured out!
You’ve participated in the Women’s Art Institute (WAI) twice, first as a participating artist and then as a teaching assistant. How did your experiences with the WAI inform you as an artist?
Returning as a teaching assistant, it was incredible to work closely with Pat Olson and Anna Garksi. I learned how WAI was run from behind-the-scenes. As a working artist, I know the importance of organization, communication and community, which were exemplified at WAI. As I continue moving forward and creating new art, I remember the inspiration I received from the women at the Women’s Art Institute. There are many hands holding me up while I paint.
What role does activism play in your art?
I pay attention to the state of our waters. For the sake of the paintings and myself, I have to be informed about what is flowing through our local waters. I consider places or environmental concerns that have an impactful story to share through visual art. While my paintings express the beauty of a place — and I do believe we need to appreciate the beauty in our world — I also believe we need to listen to and tell the stories of what is actually happening to our natural resources.
What’s next for you?
After Lanesboro, I return to the Mississippi River. I have two exhibitions this fall (see info below) and several commission projects to finish as well. Those will keep me busy for 2017. For 2018, I am preparing for solo exhibitions, including one at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona next fall. I’m really excited for that show — a solo museum exhibition before I turn 30!
What advice would you give to young artists?
As you’re choosing to be an artist, surround yourself with other creators so that you can learn from each other to advance your work. Feedback and critique are very important. It comes back to that idea of community, and recognizing that when we support each other, we offer each other more opportunities.
And, the Twin Cities art scene is a great place for emerging artists to find those opportunities! There can be fear or doubt that arises when you feel that you’re “young” or “new” to an art scene. But when you balance experimentation with learning, you will realize that there will always be acceptance and rejection in this career. It takes listening and trying, but you’re not alone, and don’t let yourself be alone in it — find those who want to come alongside you.
Catch Annie in person at two upcoming exhibitions:
"BEYOND THE SURFACE"
Featuring Annie Hejny, Deborah Foutch and Steven McLoon
October 13–December 8, 2017
The Paul Whitney Larson Art Gallery, 2017 Buford Circle, St Paul, Minnesota
Reception: Friday, October 13, 6–8 p.m.
Featuring Annie Hejny and Kristin Hoelscher-Schacker
November 4–December 2, 2017
Banfill-Locke Gallery, 6666 East River Road, Fridley, Minnesota
Reception: Sunday, November 5, 1–4 p.m.
Or visit her website: www.annie-hejny.com