From her studio in Upstate New York, Anna Warfield (b. 1995) examines female lived experiences through textiles, text, and installation. In creating sculptural forms from fibers, she steps into a typically rigid & masculine space from a softer feminine perspective: Anna’s work is unabashedly feminine in nature, both in the materials used and in its visual cues. For the past decade, Anna has been an engaged member of the arts community & participated in numerous group & solo exhibitions. 2 months ago, The New York State Council on the Arts awarded her a grant for her upcoming show at the Roberson Museum (Binghamton, NY), the artist’s first museum show.
In the beginning of December, Anna and I met via Zoom to talk about her beginnings in the arts, her affinity for fabrics and fibre art and the importance of bringing uncomfortable conversations to artistic spaces.
Hi Anna, thanks for taking your time to speak to me today. Let’s start with the basics: for those who don’t know you, please tell us briefly what you do and how you got into art.
I am a soft sculptor and fiber artist based in Upstate New York, and I work with themes around gender & sexuality. I’m interested in communication, how we communicate and what words can do for us. That’s it briefly.
Regarding how I got into art, I was pretty fortunate to grow up in a very creative household, from more of a blue-collar working perspective, though. My mum was an industrial embroiderer, she was working with fibers and doing embroidery for larger scale commercial clients. There’s a creative output happening there, it’s just in a more commercial setting. My Dad was a screen printer, similar in the sense that it was more commercial. But the tools were around, and seeing people creating something visually everyday, and being around it was just just incredibly inspiring. On top of that, my mum had gone to school for fashion merchandising. Now, she didn’t necessarily go down that path, but that creativity was always around. What she loved to do biannually was to work on commuting musicals, where she would help with building backdrops, for instance, and my sister and I would be involved in that.
So, I lived a life where I was just really fortunate to be exposed to creative outlets and seeing people incorporating that all the time.
As for myself, I loved the idea of working with fabric, my whole life it was around and I had access to it, so I would play with it. I would draw a lot and I thought at one point I wanted to be a fashion designer- I have a lot of sketches from that phase of my life. A lot of it just always evolved around fabric. Then, there was a certain shift. I don’t know exactly what caused it but I ended up wanting to go to art school, specifically, or to get my higher education in the arts, and then in doing that, again, you dabble in anything, from photography to sculpture to installation. You learn the vernacular for all these things, you learn the language around it, and I ended up graduating from Cornell with a BFA but also a communication’s degree. I’ve always just had two loves: my love of creating work and that emotive outward expression, but then I’m also incredibly analytical, so I think I’m nurturing two sides of my brain simultaneously.
So, that’s kind of what brought me into now. I mean, it’s been a number of years since I’ve graduated… I was doing book work in college and then I shifted over into more installation. So, now, it’s very installation-heavy, it’s very original poem, they’re becoming their own objects as sculptor-stand alone pieces. So, that’s where I am now.
What drew you to installation specifically?
For me, taking work off of the wall or off of the ground/the pedestal, and suspending them and bringing them out into a space, creates this bodily interaction with the work. More than you approaching it on a wall, the work exists in the space with you now, and that was of interest to me. I was creating these objects that were scales of the human body, and I didn’t want them to feel static, I wanted them to feel like they were a part of your space, I wanted them to have a little bit of motion if people were moving around, gently nudging them on accident. That’s what initially drew me to pull things off of the wall.
At this point, it’s become a sort of game that I really enjoy. Now that I can pull things off of the wall, and that I can put them in the middle of a space, it becomes this sort of push and pull, like: you want to read the text that I have here, so if I put it in a spiral, that means that I’m literally creating a spiral in the room and that’s directing traffic on repeat. There is this little element of control that I find really fun about it, too. But it definitely started as I wanted the work to exist in and amongst people. And the language that’s present in the work is really about bodies. Although the pieces don’t look like humans, they reference human bodies, so it just makes sense to me that they would exist amongst human bodies.
In your statement you talk about comfort objects, objects that are soft and fluffy but that, at the same time, carry an explicit, direct message. Was that something that happened over time or was that planned?
I started travelling down the rail of material as a space that I knew how to work with, something that made sense to me, and something that I didn’t have to learn to master. I already had a very good sense of how to work with fabric, and therefore, it was a great vehicle for the sculptural ideas that I was having. And it just so happened that it really built up the ideas and filled them out in better ways than I ever could have imagined. In dealing with themes around gender & sexuality and intense thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and having it all presented in a very soft, comfort-like mode (at first glance you’re seeing this thing, it looks comforting, you’re curious, you want to touch it, you want to be closer to it) but then it’s really chastising you or asking you to do something kind of aggressively, it creates this draw-in and a strange interaction that you weren’t expecting to have.
It was partially happenstance based on what I was making at the time, but I think part of the creative process for anyone should be acknowledging what has worked (as well as acknowledging what has failed), and leaning into the things that you’ve discovered along the way. And so that’s what I discovered: this beautiful, sort of contrarian play that worked really well for what I was doing and I really like it. I think it’s just opened up more avenues of thought as it invites people in. When I was initially stepping into working with fabric again (I had a pause of working with it in college), I was thinking about youth book. When I grew up I had a bible that was synthesized and only 5 pages long, and it was made out of fabric. And I just remembered the tactility of it, so I was thinking about education and re-education and relearning things that were super embedded in myself and wanting to present things that way but for adults. So, at one point I was making fabric books but then it translated itself in these more sculptural objects.