Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Amber White - Book Artist

Inside a Shell
Handmade book with Snapping Turtle Shell
Amber White
Altered Esthetics Featured Artist
"Formed by Nature"
May 2012

Name:  Amber White
City/State: Shoreview, MN
Email: tangledantlers[at]gmail[dot]com
 My early years were spent in central Minnesota, surrounded by nature and people who know how to live off the land. With a family history encompassing farming, hunting, fishing, trapping, and physical labor, I grew up with a healthy respect for the natural world and took to working with my hands. My first sort of creative training took place somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10 in my dad’s garage, where he and my uncle bravely allowed me to raid their tool chests for my experimental bird houses. This was around the same age I became adept at filleting fish, around the same age I encountered Jana Sterbak’s Meat Dress and Chuck Close’s cigarette-smoking Self-Portrait at the Walker Art Center during an elementary school field trip.

These experiences fueled a desire to learn more about art and to continue creating with my hands. Wanting more than fish fries and birdhouses (though I still love both), I left my hometown to attend the University of Minnesota Morris, where renewability and sustainability are core values. I completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Studio Art and Art History, with a focus in photography and book arts.

These days I live and work in the Twin Cities, though I still find time to escape and venture farther north. A local non-profit art gallery, Altered Esthetics, has been my main roost for the past few years. After completing an Assistant Gallery Director internship in 2010, I applied to join the board of directors as the Director of Group Exhibitions. Since January of 2011 I have managed over a dozen diversely themed group exhibitions. Altered Esthetics believes in art for art’s sake and provides opportunities for a wide range of creative types from students to emerging artists to working professionals.

 Moose Journal

Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on? How is this different from past projects?

Currently I am producing handmade & hand bound journals for artists and writers. This differs from many of my past projects in that my main undergraduate concentration was photography. Since I no longer have regular darkroom access, I do sometimes shoot digitally, but I find that bookmaking satisfies my need for hands-on interaction with paper and repetitive processes. I sell these books in my Etsy shop “TangledAntlers” and I have been known to take up personal requests such as a natural wedding guest book and a Tanzanian kitenge-covered travel journal. My favorite materials to use are old dictionary pages and paper wasp hives.

In the past my photographic work has focused on family and rural tensions between man and animal. I have often incorporated natural or animal materials into mixed media pieces and book art pieces as a way to salvage and upcycle the waste or scraps forgotten by my family members who hunt and trap. I collect and reuse what I can so that the animal is used to its fullest potential and can live on somehow through art. 

Hand-bound Journal with Wasp Hive Cover

"What is Art?" is certainly too big of a question to ask here, but what do you hope your audience takes away from your art? What statement do you hope to make?

Wait!! Going back to that “What is Art?” question, I can tell you what art is not. Art is not limited to what museum curators or wealthy collectors consider to be art. Art is everywhere, in all communities, for all people.  As far as my book art goes, I simply hope that the audience takes away a curiosity for the natural world, and a little more love for the handmade.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist? 

The advice given to me from other artists and colleagues can be boiled down to a few key points: Be persistent. Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you from creating, the way it stops so many others. We all have dry spells and times of rumination and that is perfectly okay. Always talk about your ideas or work with others, take yourself seriously and others will follow. Do what you know you can do, do it often, and do it well.

Dad and Uncle Rick in the Garage, Silver Gelatin Print

Tell me about your work space and your creative process.

I am thankful for my father-in-law allowing me to take over his former wood shop next to his basement utility room. There I am able to store all my “stuff” and keep things lying out on a table where I can return and work as needed without the interruption of packing things up and putting away. I do most of my binding and gluing there, which is great because it allows me to keep things in a separate space away from my dog, his fur, and other disturbances.  

Book binding very much has to be done in stages, so I will spend days just tearing paper, some days just sewing, and some days gluing or waiting for glue to dry.  After all the steps are completed and I have several books done, I set up my camera and photograph them all.

 Storage and workspace 

Who are some of the Minnesota artists you enjoy?
Jess Larson has been an instructor, mentor, and friend of mine since 2005. She creates subversive embroideries that reinterpret domestic objects and social messages directed towards women.

Margaret Gamache has been a friend of Altered Esthetics I believe since the very first years. She is a mixed media artist, a good soul, and I always appreciate her sharing of family history.

A photographer who lived and worked in Minnesota for many years, Celeste Nelms photographs and interacts with discarded objects. 

Judy Onofrio’s bone sculptures celebrate the organic beauty in life & death.

Erin Hernsberger’s gorgeously printed photographs combine fascination and repulsion. I especially enjoy the series Dissect. 

The women of Cave Paper are doing some incredible things with paper!

If I were to follow you around to see art in Minnesota, which places would we go? What would we see?
MN Center for Book Arts
North House Folk School Grand Marais
Altered Esthetics
Northtrup King Building

Pheasant feathers, wheat, and wasp hive paper on handmade coyote fur & tea paper

Where do you go online for good art resources, whether to find a new artist, or to see what is going on in the art world locally and otherwise?

Local Artist Interviews, of course!
I also love MN Artists
Northeast Minneapolis Arts District
NPR News Arts & Life

What can we expect to see from you in the future?
This May (2012) I am the featured artist for “Formed by Nature” at Altered Esthetics [], and you can expect to see many more exhibitions curated by myself and the awesome curatorial intern team at AE until the end of 2013 when my board term is complete. In August of 2013 I will be guest curating a group exhibition featuring Twin Cities’ artists at HFA Gallery on campus at U of M Morris.

When I have time off from managing exhibitions, I plan to continue my own work in binding books and potentially creating a line of other handmade paper products. In the future I also hope to have a small studio to provide portfolio documentation services to other artists.

Amber White

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