Femme Visuale: Ann Sklar

Endless skies ahead for this painter.

Gazing at horizons is like looking toward a future full of endless possibilities.

Ann Sklar’s abstracted skylines seem to hint toward the ungraspable. She aims for a feeling of calmness as a tonic for the sometimes confusing world around us, searching for a way of understanding it better and find a meaning that connects to our own inner worlds.  When she works on a smaller scale the paintings seem about how fragile this world is, how we should treasure it, and maybe even pocket it away for safe keeping. Her hope is that there is a feeling of peacefulness in these works.

Looking back to when she was in art school in Philadelphia, Sklar says that she became a printmaker because the head of that department was such a dynamic woman. Working with her inspired Sklar to become involved in the women’s feminist movement and be involved in the opening of a chapter of NOW at school.  She also became involved with MUSE, the first women’s gallery in the city, and was an organizer and exhibiter in their group show at the Philadelphia Civic Center.

Around this time, Sklar and her partner opened and directed two galleries in Philadelphia that focused on Contemporary American Crafts: clay, glass, fiber and wood.

“I stopped painting for a while because of the time commitment to the galleries but was soon back working again in a converted studio behind my house in Washington Crossing, PA. Those works were primarily gouache on paper and consisted of either free expression with a palate of colorful brush strokes, or close ups of parts of objects and scenes. I went back and forth between these two very different kinds of paintings,” she says. “This piece is a close up of gears on the Delaware Canal that I would walk past near my home in Bucks County.  Now that I think about it, I was probably already on the track toward my current work. It is really a lot about finding that calmness that can take you away from the reality of the everyday to a place that becomes like a meditation.”

As a process painter, Sklar works out composition and color as she goes, adding layer upon layer of paint until it just clicks for her.  She points to a blue painting and tells me that the first layer was actually yellow and orange. Her ideas come into focus after she spends a good deal of time reviewing photographs that she has taken.  She enjoys the ever-changing landscapes in Maine, Florida and on her travels. Recent paintings tend to be oils on canvas or panels and on a much larger scale giving the viewer an opportunity to be involved with the painting and more immersed in the landscape.

“Everything continually changes. If I don’t send a painting off to a gallery you can be pretty sure it won’t stay the same because three weeks later I may change a finished piece totally. Recently, I told my Maine gallery that I wanted some smaller paintings back because I felt the need to go further with them. Some needed more work because I just wasn’t sure that I felt they were finished.  So, I said, give them back and let’s see what happens with them.  Now they are the foundation for some new pieces,” Sklar explains.

Though her paintings include water and landscape, they aren’t necessarily really about those things. The vastness of space and the power of color seem to be of primary importance.

“I want to take a small moment in time, simplify it and have the image relay a powerful message. I like the idea being that the viewer should have an emotional response to the image and be drawn to it over and over again,” she says.

I ask what’s next for Sklar and she talked about creating new visions, new images and the idea that her work may be headed into even more imaginary interpretations of the horizon and the landscape.

“People often tell me that it's easy to tell when a painting is one of mine. I am not sure how that happens; but if your work becomes kind of a signature and easy to identify it makes it hard to change what you are doing. I think the trick is to take a break from time to time to explore new things,” she says. “Recently I began to develop some new work with imagery more focused on ideas about more fantastic landscapes as well as beginning a new series focused on cityscapes and buildings. It will be interesting to me to see how these may develop.

“In the beginning, painting was meditative for me. I can get lost in it by spending hours and hours in my studio, I may lose track of time, forget to eat lunch, or to walk the dog. I used to wake up during the night and spend hours working quietly, painting more detailed pieces.  I haven’t done that recently, but I am missing the feeling of calmness that it gives me and may be getting back to doing it again. Even though my current paintings evoke a feeling of calmness, making them is more active and complicated work. I think that it is the play back and forth between styles of paintings that appear simple but are actually complex that is interesting to me.”

Because of the struggle of working out a painting as it progresses, it can be difficult for her to tell when it is finished.

“Sometimes I know right away, but not always. If I’m not happy, something just tells me that it isn’t finished and it still needs something.  For me, inspiration can come from anywhere, anytime. I feel very fortunate to be an artist and have my paintings there for me and anyone else who becomes drawn to them.  It gives me a place to put both the hard and easy parts of life, to make some sense of it all.”  Sklar says. 

To see more of Ann Sklar’s work, please visit her website: annsklar.com.

 Urban Dictionary defines Femme Fatale as “a woman with both intelligence and sex appeal that uses these skills to manipulate poor helpless men into doing what she wants. May cause death.” Keeping in line with this concept, Caitlin Albritton's "Femme Visuale" series aims to highlight local women artists and show off some lesser-known talent that's been hiding in the shadows. In the art world, if it ain't big and loud, it ain't being seen (looking at you, Koons). Art as a grand spectacle leaves little room for modest, sincere, or quiet voices, especially women's voices. And I promise, we won’t bite.