With floating perspectives of swirling galaxies and the landscapes of far-away planets, local artist Ana Anest invites viewers to contemplate the mysterious complexities of the cosmos and explore the intersections of art, science and spirituality. Opening this weekend at Athens Academy, “Looking Up! Artistic Explorations of Our Skies” shares paintings, drawings and sculptures by Anest and Scott Pope. An opening reception with the artists will be held on Sunday, Feb. 18 from 2–5 p.m.
“In the Beginning” is a monumental, wall-spanning installation work that represents our solar system through a collection of custom-shaped canvases backlit with glowing blue LED lights. From the electrical wiring to the welding of a metal construct, the project was made possible thanks to the carpentry skills and “technical wizardry” of friend and fabricator Alan Lieffring. The entire process, which is documented through a “making of” video, took roughly four years to complete.
As a colorist, Anest has a knack for intuitively finding the perfect shades to make a piece pop. Saturn, which in photographs appears to be a golden yellow with a little lavender near the poles, is given a peachy pink undertone for “In the Beginning,” and Jupiter, which reflects a bit of periwinkle in real life, has bursts of bright teal to balance its yellows and reds.
A series of colored-pencil illustrations depicting the planets of our solar system demonstrates her ability to draw highly detailed images that are guided by reference photographs and then personalized with intuitive flourishes. Earth, for example, is covered with unique spiraling cloud formations and rotated in a way that positions her homeland of Greece right at its heart. “Through a Glass Darkly” places an all-seeing eye at the center of a spiral galaxy with gaseous clouds in soft pastels and notable stars like the Pleiades, Sirius and the Orion Trapezium Cluster.
Borrowing its name from the popular “Star Trek” phrase, the interactive sculptural piece “Beam Me Up, Scotty” consists of a rainbow of compressed cardboard cylinders that create a semicircle around a beautifully blended spiral where visitors are invited to stand and take a mental time-out. Anest’s abstract painting “Parallel Worlds,” which also depicts her beloved spiral encircled by translucent neon orbs, is a prime example of her unusual circular canvases, which have a way of echoing the sense of unmeasurable, looping infinity in space.
Many of Anest’s earlier paintings are what she calls visionary landscapes, or natural scenes accentuated by rich colors and flowing shapes that blur the line between reality and fantasy. Celestial bodies like the sun and moon were frequent focal points within these images, indicating the roots of a deep fascination that eventually became center stage in her current body of work. “Looking Up!” is dedicated to Nicholas Anest, her father and a “wannabe astronaut” who influenced her lifelong love of all things space.
“He was in the submarine service in World War II, and so he was the kind of person who could be in confined, small places and could go deep under the ocean or out into space. None of that bothered him, and it takes a particular psyche to be able to do that,” says Anest. “He was too old when the space program really got geared up, but he had a marvelous library of space books and all kinds of really cool things. We grew up just loving it. We had an atlas of the universe right alongside an atlas of the world. So, when I inherited his books, I really began to study them and followed in his footsteps.”
Holding a BFA in painting and drawing from the University of Southern Mississippi and an MFA in fine arts and art education from the University of Cincinnati, Anest has been teaching privately for the past four decades. Many of her students continue taking lessons for years, and several have found creative ways to inspire her in return. The circular painting “Panselinos” (Greek for “full moon”) depicts slender tree limbs delicately illuminated by a small but mighty moon, and was inspired by a photograph a student had given to her as a gift years prior.
The exhibition’s custom soundtrack, which will play on a loop in the gallery, was arranged by another former student, Nick Gogal, who now attends the Savannah College of Art and Design. In addition to theme songs from Anest’s longtime favorites Star Wars and “Star Trek,” the playlist includes classical compositions from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” suite, scores from video games like “Halo” and
“Call of Duty,” and shimmering pop gems from Kishi Bashi.
“What I learned a long time ago was that my job is to give birth to the art, and where it goes from there is its own business,” says Anest. “I believe that artworks are sentient beings, and that they know who they belong to, where they should go and who they’re created for, and it’s not my job to know that. Actually, it’s kind of fun to see who buys it or who receives it. A lot of times somebody will say, ‘I want this piece,’ and I’ll go, ‘I made this for you! I had no idea I was doing this for you!’ and it’ll be this perfect adoption.”
Anest’s artwork is perfectly paired alongside the oil paintings of Pope, who is well known in the community as the owner of The Loft Art Supply, a shop he has proudly run since 1977. Drawn to the ephemeral nature and complex texture of clouds, he exquisitely captures rare moments as the sun morphs the sky into opalescent brilliance. Scenes at sunset allow viewers to pause and linger within the golden hour as light is quickly slipping away. Many of his skies are painted on black backgrounds, emphasizing their delicate translucence and visually complementing the starry skies from Anest.
“Looking Up!” will remain on view in the Myers Gallery in the Science & Arts Building at Athens Academy through Friday, Apr. 20. Visitation hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.
"Looking Up! Artistic Exploration of Our Skies" features paintings, drawings and sculputre by Ana Anest and Scott Pope. See Art Notes on p. 11.