by Barbara Morris
With soaring ceilings to accommodate her towering abstract sculptures, artist Ann Weber’s inviting Emeryville studio seems almost taller than it is wide. “I’m from the Midwest, and there we say we can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” quips Weber, whose quick wit accompanies a deeply serious art practice. Indeed this accomplished artist has developed a technique for creating elegant, massive and dramatic sculptures from the most humble of materials: cardboard. Weber didn’t always opt for non-traditional media. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Art History from Purdue University, with her parents expecting her to go into teaching or “become a dental hygienist, those were really the only roles open to women then,” she instead followed her heart, in more ways than one. Weber “fell in love with clay… and with the potter sitting at the wheel next to me.” When the marriage dissolved, Weber moved to Manhattan, working full-time as a successful potter, her work sought-after for high-end department stores. Eventually the routine of throwing “a hundred cups, a dozen teapots” grew tired, and she was ready for a change.
Weber decided to apply to grad school on the West Coast, where sculptors such as Peter Voulkos, Robert Arneson, Ron Nagle and Stephen De Staebler were redefining the medium of clay. But it was the massively scaled, funky figurative work of Viola Frey that clinched her decision to attend CCAC (since 2003, just CCA). Initially, she took some flak from Frey, who advised her to “look at some real art. Look at Kandinsky and Miró.” Says Weber, “I got a book of Kandinsky and set it up in front of my potter’s wheel…and started throwing those shapes.”
Once she was on her own, finding herself in a studio two flights up, Weber realized she did not want to cope with lugging clay, or plaster, up and down the stairs. Eying a pile of boxes left over from her recent move, she “thought of Frank Gehry” and his cardboard furniture, and—realizing it was the forms that mattered—she discovered her material. And with it, a lightness and strength that enables her to construct her sculptures on such an impressive scale. That was over 20 years ago and she hasn’t looked back.
Weber’s technique involves slicing the cardboard into long strips, which she then bends, curves, and manipulates to build structures based on the sphere and the cylinder: “the most universal, beautiful and profound shapes.” Initially, she wove the strips together, securing them with a stapler, working in a circular fashion much like building a coil pot. Her process now often includes the construction of a cardboard-based armature. Her immersive installation The Wedding Party (2009), like her recent Personages series, uses simple geometric forms as stand-ins for the human figure to make statements about the dynamics of relationships, interconnection and finding balance. As Weber notes, “I was inspired by both the Louises, Nevelson and Bourgeois.”
In 2011, the Los Angeles Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) presented “Love and Other Audacities,” a major retrospective of her work, and she has held numerous artist’s residencies, including a recent project in Beijing, China, where she was greeted with banners in the streets. Weber’s newest show, at Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco, will include free-standing sculptures such as The Personages (Perfect Fit) (2014)—featuring a pair of larger-than-human scale objects, the sinuous curves and bulges of one matched by the angular arcs of its partner—as well as new, wall-mounted works. As an Artist-in-Residence at the American Academy in Rome in 2014, she explored her fascination with High Baroque sculpture, particularly with the extravagant drapery, which she views as symbolic of a connection to the divine. The result was a new body of wall-mounted pieces, such as After Bernini, Charity (2013)—a bravura meshing of the aesthetic concerns of ornate classical sculpture with the earthy foundations of Arte Povera. Inspired by Ellsworth Kelly’s Spectrum series, other wall-mounted sculptures will include After Ellsworth (Yellow 5) (2014) combining elongated forms, with scalloped edges in shades of white, mustard, and yellow ocher, with a half-sphere hovering in a semicircular depression, its woven face suggesting both a basket and a mask.
Weber has just embarked on a yearlong stay in LA, where she intends to rent a studio and explore the Southern California art scene. Surely she will find some new and exciting opportunities in LA—along with the best spots to dumpster-dive.