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Q&A: Painting the Kitchen with Artist Ann Wallace

Prep Gathering, pastel, by Ann Wallace, winner of The Art League Award in "Gatherings." (click for larger image)
Prep Gathering, pastel, by Ann Wallace, winner of The Art League Award in “Gatherings.” (click for larger image)

Picture “Gatherings,” and who crowds around you in your mind’s eye? They’re likely the people you spend the most time with from day to day: your family, friends, and coworkers.

That last group, perhaps the most under-celebrated of the bunch, is the subject of the pastel painting above, which won the second place Art League Award in “Gatherings.” The figures project a relaxed atmosphere, eschewing cliches about hot tempers and frayed nerves — this kitchen is more Ina Garten than Gordon Ramsay.

The artist, Ann Wallace, told us more about her love of pastel and the kitchen:

Where is Prep Gathering? What made this scene stand out to you as worthy of painting?
Ann Wallace: Prep Gathering is the kitchen of The Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, DC. It is the second in my kitchen series. The first is a pastel of a woman cooking clams in Tuscany. I love thinking about the story behind kitchen scenes, because in my college days I worked at a restaurant and remember fondly the camaraderie among the wait staff and cooks. I intend to continue working on these kitchen and restaurant themes.

Woman Cooking Clams by Ann Wallace was selected for the 2014 exhibit at The Art League, "The Feminist Movement in Art."
Woman Cooking Clams by Ann Wallace was selected for the 2014 exhibit at The Art League, “The Feminist Movement in Art.”

What do you like about working in pastel? Do you work in other media?
I love pastel because of its immediacy and spectacular colors. I also work in oils, charcoal, gouache, acrylic and egg tempera. I am now working on egg tempera still life pieces and pastel portraits at the Art Students League of New York.

Unlike oils or any other wet medium, pastels bring you in direct and instant contact with your subject matter. There is no mixing with a medium or with other colors. You simply choose a color from your box that resembles what you are looking at and, if necessary, layer other colors immediately on top of the first color. I chose pastel for Prep Gathering because it is by far my favorite medium, and because I knew it would give me the atmospheric look that I had in mind.

Prep Gathering by Ann Wallace (detail)
Prep Gathering by Ann Wallace (detail)

What’s your creative process like, from an idea to a finished piece?
My thought process for portraits and figures is always the same: “Is there a story in what I am seeing?” In landscapes, I look for distance and what the scene evokes. Still life paintings have all these aspects but also require a significant concentration on lights and shadows.

How do you know when a piece is done?
I know when I have finished a painting by looking at it when it is almost there and asking myself is there anything that will make it better without detracting from its freshness.

“Gatherings” is open through Monday, August 3.

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