Five years ago, Anna Hepler gave up a career in academia and moved with her family to Eastport, Maine to work as a full-time artist in the tiny coastal community. Her commitment to both her work and pursuing a path less taken comes across in “Push Me Pull You,” Hepler’s new exhibition, which opens at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond on Friday, April 1 with an artist talk at 5:30 p.m. and an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m.
Hepler credits Eastport with giving her the chance to discover who she is as an artist. “In Eastport, I’m trying to get closer to my own natural impulses of making—without stopping myself midstream with feelings of disapproval. In any creative endeavor, we’re just trying to get closer to being who we are,” says Hepler.
Who Hepler is is an artist who, despite her own self-doubt, has won support from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Artist Resource Trust, The Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program, the Tamarind Institute and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Her work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Tate Modern in London and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.
Hepler works in multiple mediums—drawing, ceramics, metals, textiles, printmaking and plastic—and is best known as a printmaker and sculptor. Her large-scale installations, most notably at the Portland Museum of Art, the Decordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Mass. and Suyama Space in Seattle, Wash., have earned her a reputation as one of Maine’s most important contemporary artists.
“When you’re offered the opportunity to show in a space, there’s usually something about the architecture or scale or volume of the space that, as an artist, you want to react to,” says Hepler.
At the Visual Arts Center, Hepler’s largest piece is a wire sculpture called “Reveille.” She brought it to Richmond in pieces in a rental truck and assembled it in the gallery. Other sculptures in the exhibition are made from wood, ceramics, fabric and even reused plastic, which Hepler calls a gross but alluring material because of its color, transparency and availability.
For Hepler, selecting and sticking with one medium in which to work was never an option. “I’m never sure I’ve found the right vehicle for my idea. I might try an idea in wire, and there’s something about the form that I want to repeat in ceramics. I’m always searching for the best articulation of an idea, so it feels natural to me to turn the idea over to a variety of materials,” says Hepler.
Critics often search for connections to nature in Hepler’s work, which is organic in shape and sometimes takes on an almost undulating quality. Hepler herself describes the work as retinal, and says that while the pieces may have links to natural occurrences or natural beauty, they are much more connected to her own psychology.
These days, Hepler’s psyche should be in good shape. In June, she’ll be an artist-in-residence at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax, with an exhibition to follow there in July. And in August, Hepler will complete a large installation, made from repurposed cardboard, called “Undertow” at Eastport’s Tides Institute and Museum of Art.
Hepler has also spent a lot of time in her studio recently, and she says it’s her new work that excites her the most, mainly because she doesn’t understand it yet. “Push Me Pull You” will feature several new ceramics sculptures and a wood piece whose physical qualities resemble rope. “I don’t know if they’ve arrived at a good place yet but I feel excited about them,” says Hepler.
In conjunction with VisArts’ exhibition, Quirk Gallery will open “Alphabet,” an exhibition of Hepler’s work on paper and small sculptural models in mixed media. “Alphabet” runs from April 5 to May 8, with an opening reception on April 5 from 5 to 8 p.m.