Each day at the Foundry Art Centre, students of all ages come through the front doors with their toolboxes brimming with paints and brushes; their paintings, all in various stages of progress, are placed carefully under their arms. Each of them treads a familiar path up to Studios 15 & 16, where Ann Croghan is waiting to instruct them on their next artistic steps.
"Everyone is painting differently in my classes," Ann says, "and I want that." A glance around the room proves it's true; her students are each using a medium they have selected and all paint in whichever style they prefer - pointillism, realism, hyper-realism, and stylized among the techniques. Ann teaches painting to students of all levels, whether they've painted for years or are trying art for the first time in their lives. Like many master painters before her, she simply begins with the basics and helps her students progress. "I may be an abstract painter, but my students start with realism. You have to learn to paint realistically before you paint abstractly."
Ann has always had a passion for teaching, even as a child. "Teaching is me just trying to get you excited about something I love," she smiles. After earning her BA at University of Missouri - St. Louis, she continued on to graduate school at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where she accomplished her MFA in Painting and Drawing. Ann began teaching drafting and drawing as a graduate student and resolved to become a teacher, as well as an artist. After achieving her MFA in 1984, she continued to teach part-time and worked a full-time job. "I would be dead tired at the end of a work day," Ann remembers, "but as soon I got to class to teach, I was wide awake and having a blast. The best part of my week was when I was teaching." It was this realization that led her to quit her full-time job and pursue teaching full time.
For fifteen years, Ann traveled between five locations, teaching eleven classes a week, six days a week. While this sort of schedule could run an artist into the ground, Ann's determination to teach was tireless. As she sustained her busy teaching schedule, her students and colleagues would often direct her to the Foundry Art Centre and encourage her to settle into her own space to teach. Eventually the stars aligned for Ann and her path led to the FAC where she was juried into Studio 15 & 16.
"I have been here for five years and I have never once regretted the move. This is the best place I could be." Aside from having her own place to create and teach, Ann loves the artistic atmosphere of the Foundry Art Centre and her students enjoy it, too. "Being surrounded by artists is like being in graduate school; I get to have the discussions that help grow my work but without the grades," she chuckles.
These interactions between artists of all experience levels help advance her artistic journey and aid her students in developing their own artwork. FAC Studio Artist Spring Hansen (Studio 18) recently challenged Ann to work in a monochromatic color palette, a task that has helped Ann better understand her role as a colorist, an artist that specializes in color.
"Being a colorist, I will not buy black paint," Ann avows. "I make black with the intention that black is not just one flat color, but a variety of colors. Black can be warm and cool. This has been a really good challenge because it is making me experiment with different techniques, as well as different color combinations."
Alongside her lifelong love of teaching, Ann has always loved color. "It has has always been a part of my life, since I picked up my first Crayola crayon," she recalls. "I was fascinated with the names and the colors; why did Yellow-Green and Green-Yellow or Red-Orange and Orange-Red look so different but have similar names? I knew every name and color in the 120-crayon box by heart." This adoration of color continued to grow as she developed her painting style and discovered color theory in college.
Inspired by her faith, Ann strives to personify God's grace through her brushstrokes and palette. "I have always liked the clouds and the sky. When I drive home after a storm, I see the light coming through the clouds and I see that as God's grace," she explains. "God is the light in my paintings and light always overpowers the darkness. He's given me grace and my paintings are a reflection of that." This central theme has emerged from years of focusing on composition and the relationship between geometry and color theory. Many of her early paintings focus primarily on geometric compositions and what Ann describes as "line as object."
As she delved further into abstract painting, her pinpointed focus on geometry distracted her from the strongest facet of her work: color. "My professor in grad school suggested removing the geometry from my work and focusing on color," says Ann. "The geometry is still in my work but now it's underneath the surface." Eliminating geometry as subject matter allowed Ann to meditate on the concepts she wished to paint. Her faith influenced her style which in turn evolved into atmospheric, abstracted skyscapes with multi-faceted color palettes. "There are always two colors competing for dominance, and my job is to convey that tension while also depicting the peace, joy, hope, and divine grace of my spirituality."
Inspired by the Impressionists, primarily Monet and Van Gogh, Ann uses color in a similar fashion by letting the viewer's eye blend the colors applied to her canvas. She uses acrylic paints which allow her to layer more often as the paint dries more quickly than other media.
"As a colorist, I am constantly experimenting with color. Using transparent layers of color, I develop complex color relationships and intriguing depths that viewers often describe as ethereal." Ann's color usage and expressive mark-making draw the viewers into the depths of a painting, where even the darkest areas convey color and light shining from below.
Ann's pursuit of her teaching career has resulted in successful self-employment and a job she enjoys each day. "I love painting and I love teaching, so I come here to have fun doing a job I love to do. If you do a job you love, you will never work a day in your life." While Ann may teach eleven classes a week, she never comes to work; rather, Ann comes to the Foundry Art Centre each day and lives a dream she has relentlessly pursued.
Article & Photographs by Jillian Schoettle.