WORDS Sara Lee Burd
Anne Siems considers herself a conduit of visual communication, as she says, “a visceral prophet.”
She transmits inner and outer worlds as figurative artworks filled with feeling and intrigue. External factors such as her role in her family, her health, social political upheavals, the environment, spiritual practices, and technology affect her artworks unconsciously as she focuses her attention on making compositions that resonate on their own. She explains, “I like my work to be a mystery and that it expresses itself through discernment. It’s obscure, and I don’t really work from my brain, which allows me to make a bigger statement. I want it to really meet all of us at a level where we aren’t analyzing it. Where we are just letting it penetrate us.”
Sometimes I feel like something is coming through me that maybe I should take the time to explore.”
Siems moved to the United States from Berlin on a Fulbright scholarship to study at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Her experience there combined her interests in spiritualism, nature, and art. She exclaims, “The South is so awesome! There is so much mystery and history in Tennessee. When I moved to Seattle I missed history. There’s no Howard Finster and unique outsider art out here. I had to dig deeper to find out about the indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest.”
A seemingly unlikely inspiration for Siems, the art of the Pacific Northwest tribes impacts the artist on many levels. She proclaims, “Their art is exactly what I am doing, but in a different way. They’ve pulled all of this knowledge together, squeezed it through discernment of visual refinement, and the outcome is images of spirits, animals, entities, and energies. Regardless of whatever animal is represented, they have an immediate, intense energy. They are a visual medicine that shakes your soul and reverberates inside you. You feel the power coming out from it. It has brought me to tears.” In indigenous art, she admires the timeless spiritual echoes from the past. She explains, “In a way I would love for my work to have that kind of effect on people, not that they have to cry. I want to create work that wakes up this [connectedness] in people; that the art fills them.”
Missing spirituality and ritual in her life in Seattle, Siems read a book suggested by a friend in Germany, Magic Everyday by Luisa Francia. While the content fascinated Siems, it was the author’s freedom and attitude that really motivated her. “She’s an anarchist. She’s not someone who fits into a dogma. She’s into anything witchy and herby and just runs freely with anything that she wants to explore.” Siems immersed herself in Shamanism and the practice of shamanic journeying. She has participated in spiritual workshops incorporating ancient ceremonial techniques for years and is now teaching. Clarifying her work: “My interest is in using the part of our brains that can make that connection with spirits. There is more to life than what we can see, and I use journey as a way of being more connected to the web of life.”
“My interest is in using the part of our brains that can make that connection with spirits. There is more to life than what we can see, and I use journey as a way of being more connected to the web of life.”
The first work Siems made in this series was Porcupine. “For some reason ‘porcupine’ had just popped up from a story of a friend whose dog had just had a violent encounter. Then I received a card with a porcupine on it, and just thought, OK, porcupine it is.” In the resulting painting, Siems presents a play between the heavy, wild beast in the foreground and the light, ethereal woman who occupies the top quarter of the composition. Siems presents the female with a direct outward glance and a delicately rendered hand clasping a quill, which appears lovely and also menacing when considered with the accompanying porcupine’s mess of fur made of dynamic pointing needles alert to danger. Showing off their defenses or perhaps working on offense, Siems illuminates a commonality amongst all life on earth.
Siems explains that approaching her art as the artist and as a shamanic practitioner are quite different for her. “Sometimes I feel like something is coming through me that maybe I should take the time to explore.
What does porcupine mean, I wonder? Shamans would say, ‘What is the medicine of this animal?’ If I were to journey on the question of porcupine, I would wonder what I could learn from the porcupine. In the studio, I am working from a different place to make art.” She frees herself from associations to select imagery intuitively rather than with an expectation of singular meaning. That, she leaves to viewers to interpret and resolve the works for themselves.
An example of free association, in The Bear Siems references the visage and signature coif from Velazquez’s portraits of Mariana of Austria, Queen of Spain. Plucking the monarch from her original palatial and equestrian contexts, the artist disconnects the queen’s likeness and biography. As she explains, “I have several photocopies of paintings of her by Velazquez at various ages. There’s something about her face that is just really intriguing.” Playing with the European style of courtly portraiture, Siems replaces the standard gallant horse topped by a noble with a downward-gazing brown bear carrying a semi-dressed young woman. In this case, however, the harried beast and the stoic maiden do not exude a sense of regal honor and pride.
By approaching the bizarre and indeterminable, the artist provides a space for considering the universe unrestricted by the rules of nature as we know them. Pollen features a youth depicted in a cloud-filled space. Nude except for his heavy boots, his body is cloaked in undulating waves of colors, lines, and drips and drops of color. Thorn-like points surround the boy’s neck and shoulders, and coupled with the radiant mystical shroud, he appears enveloped in protective energy. Hummingbirds approach the figure as though drawn to his being like nectar. The meaning of these juxtapositions remains ambiguous and compels curiosity.
Through process or by her own artistic inclinations, Siems’s art has an emotional intensity that is rendered so subtly it is hard to unravel which elements produce the effect. In Markhor Goat, the figure’s doll-like face appears peaceful, yet with a distant gaze. Circles dotted with pink and black placed in a vertical line from her head down indicate five chakra points. The Eastern-based belief is that each one relates to energy centers. The goal is working to align these energies through physical and spiritual work to achieve inner peace. Considering this significance, it could be noted that the figure is suffering an imbalance indicated by the black spots in the bottom and top circles. These generally represent the root chakra, which relates to foundation and feeling grounded, and the crown chakra, which indicates spiritual connection and equilibrium between inner and outer beauty. The fantastical, horned beast is a real goat from Asia, but Siems is quick to remind that it was selected because of its appearance, rather than significance.