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October 31, 2000

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Profile: Cover Artist

by J. Green

The featured cover artist for this issue is Ann Calagaz of Daphne. If it is true that an artist's work is a reflection of her life, then Ann Calagaz seems to be a happy person. From her studio overlooking Mobile Bay, Calagaz paints mostly representational works with a bright, sunlit, yet low-key palette that presents only the best aspect of her subjects. She says that her palette is in fact getting brighter in recent works, not as result of a conscious decision, but merely as a reflection of her mood and her attitude toward work. And she has reason to be encouraged about her work: She is not only a well-known and respected artist and teacher in the Mobile area, but has also received favorable recognition in national and international competitions. In 1999 she was invited to join a group of twelve other international artists to show their work at an exhibition of contemporary art in Paris.

Calagaz was a late bloomer in her art career, though she says that she started drawing and painting with watercolors at about age ten. She always enjoyed art, but did not begin producing any sort of art until her three children were all in school and she had a bit more time to devote to it. Her approach at that time to a career as an artist was through the back door of painting on china -- a form of art that has long been considered a "respectable" way for southern ladies to express their artistic proclivities in a socially acceptable way. After painting on china for a few years, Calagaz agreed to go with a friend to take a watercolor class at the Eastern Short Art Center, and with that course, the die was cast. She says she was captivated by the broader range of artistic possibilities of the "water media" -- watercolor and ink. After taking a few more courses at the Art Center, she decided she needed more formal training in other aspects of art beyond technique, and went back to school for a degree.

Calagaz says that throughout her career, from the early courses, through the academic degree and in her work since then, her style of painting has continually evolved and changed in ways that she didn't predict or even control. One of the most exciting things about being a full-time artist is being both protagonist and pawn -- being in total artistic control on one level but subject to the unknowable momentum of your uncontrollable artistic proclivities on another level. She says it is a mystery to her to look back at her earlier works and realize how far she has come as an artist, and to contemplate the future with enthusiasm for the work but without knowing what direction the work is going to take her. An artist, she says, has to be willing to go with the flow of the work as it expresses itself, almost as an independent entity.

Another aspect of her career that Calagaz has enjoyed is teaching art. She has taught at the Eastern Shore Art Center and at many other venues, including USA's Continuing Education program and Pensacola Junior College. She says she gets great satisfaction from sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for art with both beginners and seasoned artists. One of the things she finds with beginners, she says, is what she calls "white fright" -- the dread of facing a white piece of paper or canvas, without a clear mental image of what the finished product should be. Calagaz says she uses a number of techniques to help would-be painters get past that stage and to have the courage and confidence to "let the paint manipulate them." One of the most frightening things for new painters is to abandon their illusion of control and to let go of the reins on their expressive impulses. Yet only by letting go of those reins can one truly release the creative potential that lies inside. Abandoning that need for control won't make one a Picasso overnight, but it is a beginning, and beginnings are important, whenever and however they occur.


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