Anna Tsantir is a Twin Cities artist whose printmaking has been recognized with support from a number of grants and fellowships — among them the Minnesota State Arts Board’s Artist Initiative Grant for 2009, the Highpoint Center for Printmaking, and the Jerome Foundation’s Emerging Printmakers’ Residency for 2008-09. Tsantir was also the artist-in-residence for the MCBA in the spring of 2008.
Photos and interview by Kelsey Johnston
Secrets: Where are you from?
Anna: I’m from here. I lived in Wyoming for about 5 years and in Memphis, Tennessee for about 6 years. I just moved back here about 5 years ago.
Secrets: Tell me about how you got started.
Anna: I was kind of late to making art, I studied art for a long time first. I was was not from an artistic family. I guess I always kept a sketchbook or a journal but, never really showed it to anyone. I didn’t start making and showing work until I was probably 27. First I got my Art History degree and half way through getting the degree I decided it was kind of stupid to just look at slides. So, I quit school for a year and traveled to Europe to a lot of museums and with that came kind of a big shift.
I came back and felt like talking about art wasn’t enough. I started really basic, I thought “I’m just going to learn how to draw” so that I understand how to look at a drawing. I just started really fundamentally. When I was in Wyoming I met Mark Ritchie, the printmaking professor out there and who is probably the reason I’m a print maker, he was just one of those people that made me feel comfortable making art outside of my closet. WY was a safe place to start, in the middle of nowhere. I remember walking out of this print studio and there were actual tumbleweeds. Though, there was opportunity there which was kind of phenomenal. James Luna, Liza Lou,Louis Jimenez had come to the museum to speak or install work there and the community it was so tiny, we all got to hang out with them and meet them which was cool. I then got to a place where I realized I could not stay there forever. I ended up wanting to be pushed and challenged more.
I ended up going to Memphis which sounds like a really weird choice but there was this printmaker there, Cynthia Thompson, she teaches book and print. She had been to all the good schools, interned in NY at dieu donne and galleries, and was an assistant to Nancy Spero who is one of my favorite artists. She was really hard and pushed people to tears sometimes. (laughs) But now she invites me to be in some of the best shows I have been in, it is sort of great. I think that’s what I wanted at that point. I just wanted to know if I was good enough. Then I made the mistake of getting out of grad school and getting an arts administrative job which is a killer. If you have any momentum it will kill it. I was lucky if I had time to spend in my sketchbook.
Then they lost funding for my program and I ended up cleaning houses. It was the best thing ever, one year later I was cleaning houses making more money than working at the non-profit and I found myself with way more studio time and an actual studio! I made more work that year than I had in the past 4 years since school which was an amazing discovery.
Ha, so it is sort of a long story I guess…
Secrets: Tell me about your recent work.
Anna: Actually right now I’m going through a really big shift. Right after I started cleaning houses, I had gotten some grants and show opportunities and that kind of thing. A lot of my work up till now has come from these 5 sketchbooks full of stuff from the time I had been working full time. There was a lot of ideas and research in them that had never gotten worked out. I went into this crazy production mode for a few years but I got to a point last year where I thought “Okay, I think I’m done with some of this”.
So lately it has been a very experimental, albeit a little uneasy, time. But exciting all the same. I started a artist book making club called Adult Books with about 5 other amazing artists, we did a project in August at the Soap Factory with Andy Sturdevant. I used to be very suspicious of collectives and all this collaboration as I like to spend a lot of time alone! However, I’ve found that I’ve really enjoyed being in a group more and working collaboratively right now. Turns out my ideas don’t necessarily get watered down, they get better if is a true collaboration. Turns out other artists are pretty much thinking about the same things I am. Low and behold.
In my studio by myself, however, I am currently exploring the perimeters of the object or an image; I have been using light and shadow to cast my images onto objects. I like the impermanence of that. I am also working on an artists book using photography and portraits – very different that my ‘usual’ work. However they all are still exploring themes that have always been there in the work. There are definitely these very universal type themes in my work and I’m not what you’d call a cool artist. I am sort of obsessed with Paul Thek right now and he talks about what he calls the “catholic” artist, which doesn’t have anything to do with the religion but, it’s more dealing with themes that are kind of outside of any moment. And that resonates with me.
Some of these recent experiments will be ready for a show in June at xyz with Dan Luedtke, I am also working on a book project Adult Books will be presenting at the downtown library along with Pride, and Andy Sturdevant and I just received a Forecast grant to plan a book art project on an island of the Mississippi.
Secrets: What is your favorite medium?
Anna: Print, book and drawing – anything on paper, I love paper.
Secrets: Have you ever taken an ink blot personality test? Sorry I couldn’t resist.
Anna: (laughs) You know I haven’t but, A lot of people have told me that some of my work looks like that or ask “is this the Rorschach?”. Some of the pieces I have like that are these really sexual ‘spinners’ (I call them), or combinations of sexual figures and guns or knives. I started drawing those a long time ago when we were just going into this mess of a war. What’s really funny is when I was printing at High Point I was printing one afternoon with these lovely older printmakers that happened to be women, my mom’s age maybe a little older, and they were like “these are great! Are these skiers?” (laughs) I said “I guess they are what ever you want them to be” (laughs). There’s a lot of people who don’t know what they are, or don’t want to see what they are maybe, and that is fascinating and why I think they work.
Secrets: What do you like most about living in Minneapolis?
Anna: From an artists perspective, when I lived in Wyoming and Memphis there was no money for artists. Coming back here and getting a couple residencies and grants I realized how much support for the arts there is here. Which, I find really helpful (laughs) on a lot of levels not just money wise, the network is there too. Other than that I’d have to say the best part about living here is the river.
Secrets: What’s your favorite establishment in Minneapolis?
Anna: The place that I love to go to on a rainy/snowy day is the downtown library. They have the rare book rooms. You can look anything up in there, and they are so nice and happy to help you. You can look at bestiaries from the 1500’s to Minneapolis phone books from the 1800’s. Their rare book collection is pretty fascinating. I feel like very few people know about it or take advantage of it. The library and Cave Paper which is also downtown if I can have two favorites. The women at Cave make amazing paper and the ‘Cave’ itself is a sight to behold.