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Q&A with Alexandria Living Legend Betsy Anderson

Ancient Delos, oil on canvas, by Betsy Anderson. Winner of the Amelia T. Clemente Family Award for Best in Show.
Ancient Delos, oil on canvas, by Betsy Anderson. Winner of the Amelia T. Clemente Family Award for Best in Show.

Betsy Anderson is a long-time Art League member and Torpedo Factory artist, having been involved with both organizations for decades. With her retirement from the Torpedo Factory on the horizon, it seems fitting that she’s received two accolades this Spring.

First, she was named a Living Legend of Alexandria, an honor The Art League nominated her for. And this month, juror Lisa Golightly selected the painting above for the Amelia T. Clemente Family Award for Best in Show. We checked in with the artist to see if it’s all going to her head:

What draws you to oil paint and monotypes?
Betsy Anderson: I use oil paints because that’s what I have used since college. I like the slow drying of oils which allows me to soften edges, wipe out sections and have time to make corrections. I do not like the fast drying of acrylics and I feel like my colors are more pure.

I started doing monotypes about 25 years ago as a way to work smaller. For me, it is a perfect medium because it challenges my sense of design. When doing a monotype, you need to work fast. This keeps an artist from overworking a piece and getting mud. It’s also a way to practice your sense of design because you have to work so quickly.

How do your travels inspire you? Is there one location that you’ve painted/printed the most?
When we travel I always carry a camera. I’m not much on painting on site. I take photos, bring them back to the studio, make abstract drawings of the photos which I use for the basis of my paintings. My feelings about the place I am painting influences my choice of colors. Quite often the colors are not what I saw but my feelings about the place. I often do not use this technique when doing a monotype. I will think of places we have visited, make small sketches, think about color and start working.

Almost everywhere we have traveled I get inspiration. My favorite place is Italy. The colors, the ancient places, the people and the food all contribute to my paintings.

Approaching Santorini by Betsy Anderson, from her 2009 solo show, “Greece Abstracted”.
Approaching Santorini by Betsy Anderson, from her 2009 solo show, “Greece Abstracted.”

What was your goal with Ancient Delos?
Ancient Delos is a Greek island. It is a sacred island of the Greeks long ago. There are no homes and the landscape lacks much vegetation. My goal was to show the mystery of the island and its ancient religious feeling. So I kept my colors very limited and used a much more abstract design than I usually do.

As an Alexandria Living Legend, what has your role been in the community over the years? What role do you think arts play in Alexandria?
I have had a studio at the Torpedo factory for 36 years. During that time I have worked at The Art League, served on The Art League Board and was President for 11 years. I served on the Alexandria Commission for the Arts for six years and tried to make the commission more aware of the visual arts in Alexandria. At that time, they were giving grants to a lot more performing arts than visual arts.

The Art League submitted my name to Living Legends and I was thrilled when I was named a Living Legend of Alexandria for 2016. I thank The Art League for thinking of me. I have also served on the TFAA Board in various roles and five years on the Torpedo Factory Art Center Board as The Art League representative.

Parrot Island, oil on paper, by Betsy Anderson. From the July 2014 All-Media Exhibit.
Parrot Island, oil on paper, by Betsy Anderson. From the July 2014 All-Media Exhibit.

You’ll be retiring from the Torpedo Factory soon. What will you be doing next?
I consider myself to be an visual arts advocate and hope to continue that. I have been on The Art League Advisory Board and plan to continue that.

The Art League has been very important to me. The competitive shows really helped me to become a better artist and the friendships I have made have been wonderful.

The May Open Exhibit is open through June 5.

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