While walking along the San Lorenzo River levee earlier this year, Ann Altstatt received a spontaneous visit from her muse. “It was just one of those moments where things line up, and you get a flash of inspiration—sort of like a snapshot of an idea,” the local painter/printmaker/science illustrator recalls.
A good deal of digging, hefting, hauling and welding later, that idea took tangible form as a diffuse metal sculpture called River Ghosts. Altstatt manifested her vision with her partner, metalworker/bicycle builder Joshua Muir. As one of ten temporary art displays that lined the San Lorenzo River during the month of June for the Ebb & Flow River Arts Project, the piece depicted ghostly figures from various points in the river’s history, as if creating a portal to a space in which all parts of the river’s past and present coexist.
The “lightbulb moment” that gave rise to River Ghosts was one of many such flashes that Altstatt has gotten from time to time. “It’s a visual idea, but it’s also a feeling,” she says of this kind of sudden burst. “It’s not like a long narrative dream, but it’s a flash of imagery that is coming from somewhere in my brain. I write those down in notebooks, do research, cut images and write quotes down that all pertain to those. And then sometimes I’ll be doing research and collecting things that I’m interested in, and then I’ll understand the way that they go together later. Sometimes the idea comes first, and sometimes it comes after I’ve been sitting with some material for a while.”
Altstatt and Muir, who live near the river and frequently walk or bike along the levee, were motivated to contribute to Ebb & Flow by their mutual interest in the San Lorenzo River’s history. “I was particularly interested in old images of the Venetian Water Carnival that was right at that bed in the river,” Altstatt notes.
The artist adds that Ebb & Flow “was activating a public space in a noncommercial, participatory sort of way, where anybody who’s walking down the river levee potentially could have their impression or experience of the space change by a work of art. The city was originally built around this beautiful river that was flowing through it. For many decades, it’s been kind of forgotten about, ignored and trashed. Getting people to think about the river, its history and our presence on the river levee in a different way was really exciting to me.”
Altstatt, who studied earth science, painting and printmaking at UCSC and science illustration through the Cal State Monterey Bay College of Extended Education and International Programs, gets much of the inspiration for her art by learning about science and the natural world. Her work also draws on metaphors and visual ideas from her Catholic upbringing. She deliberately places such imagery out of context and draws nonlinear connections between these symbols.
Ann will be presenting her collage-based work and mixed-media work, as well as some printmaking, at a LoOk Collective group holiday show that will take place on December the 13th at the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Posse House (2127 Ocean Street Extension). She will also be a part of a collaborative show with her friend Bridget Henry at the Felix Kulpa Gallery next year. Tentatively titled The Forgotten Works, the exhibit is scheduled to open on May 6th.
To see more of Ann’s work, visit annamicaaltstatt.com.
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