Ann Karp: Traffic Signal Box 2017 Interview
Ann Karp was one of our 2017 Traffic Signal Box Artists. Her box is located on the corner of South & Garfield and is titled, "Missoula Aquifer". The following are Ann's responses to 5 interview questions about her experience as an artist as well as her experience during this project.
1. What is your background as an artist or art maker? "I was always that kid who drew. My folks could keep me quietly contented by giving me a piece of paper and a pen anytime. But I didn't have sustained art instruction until I met a wonderful woman, Jo Knox, while working on a pecan farm in Georgia. She was an old-school illustrator, sign-painter, and muralist, and I wanted to learn what she knew. I pretty much told her I was apprenticing myself to her, and she generously agreed. So I followed her around three days a week for a couple years, painting and learning the craft. Now, in Montana, I own a small business, Sideways Gaze Signs, so I get to paint signs, seasonal holiday window art, and hand-lettering for lots of local businesses and non-profits. (If you've seen the windows at Masala, RP Ellis Fine Jewelers, the Roxy Theater, Red Rooster, or Black Cat Bakery, to name a few, you've seen my work.) I've also enjoyed taking oil painting classes at the University of Montana with Kevin Bell and Mary Ann Bonjorni, and watercolor classes at the Lifelong Learning Center with Bob Phinney and Karen McCloney. I've had a few gallery shows, but honestly, I prefer making art right there on the street, that everyone can enjoy, even people who'd never set foot inside a gallery or art museum."
2. What inspired you to want to paint/design a Traffic Signal Box? "Seeing the other designs around town, it looked like a fun project. I like a challenge, trying something new. And, in town, I treasure green spaces. Even though a traffic signal box is solidly industrial, this was an opportunity to bring a sense of nature to it, to make people think about nature and perhaps breathe a little more deeply for a minute as a result."
3. Can you describe your TSB design and what it’s about? "It's an artist's rendition of the Missoula Valley aquifer: the underground layer of water that sustains us all. Our aquifer isn't very deep down, and that seems both magical and vulnerable. We're kind of walking on water, our most precious resource! So the box shows the geological layers of earth, rock, and water, and the connections between the ground and the water table. And it shows the relationships of different animals and plants to these layers. I specifically chose species that live in Montana: prairie junegrass, ground squirrel, California gull, mallard, earthworms, etc. I hope that people and children passing by might recognize these species as their neighbors. But also, because many people will only see the box in a flash as they zoom by on four wheels, I wanted the design to read easily as a simple thing of beauty. To do this, I used just four paint colors (red, yellow, blue, brown), plus white. Mixing all the hues from just four tubes was a difficult task, but I wanted a unified palette that was grounded, vibrant, and cohesive. And a lot of the forms are simplified: made more geometric, or smoothed out. Those were my aesthetic guidelines."
4. In your eyes, what are the challenges of creating public art? What are the rewards? "You have to have confidence and trust in your process, because the work is going to go through phases where it doesn't look awesome. When you're painting alone at home, nobody has to see it in the awkward moments along the way to completion. So there's a thrill in being so vulnerable while making art. As far as rewards, I love the instant feedback. You definitely get that when you're painting in public: comments from passing bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists, like "Your work is appreciated!" or "Looking good!" or even "Paint the *&^# out of that box!" The greatest reward, though, is the chance to beautify a little bit of Missoula, to bring some intentionality to an otherwise forgettable street corner, maybe brighten somebody's day."
5. What was your favorite part of this entire process? Why? "The sense of community was a delightful surprise to me. So many people helped me out in one way or another: one loaned me a tent, another a projector, another a special mask for those long, smoky days of painting. A past TSB artist took time to look over my application and scale model and make suggestions when I asked her. Friends and public art committee members came by to say hi while I painted. Complete strangers made sure I had enough water. The business on the corner let me use their restroom. And the three of us painting this summer would visit one another's projects, and make sure we all had the supplies we needed. I felt so supported. These traffic signal boxes are the products not only of the individual artist, but of a strong community of thoughtful people. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it."
Big THANK YOU to Ann for her wonderful responses and her gorgeous Traffic Signal Box!