Up Close with NYSRP Alumni Ann Toebbe


Ann Toebbe
Ex-Wife’s Plants and Things
hand painted paper, gouache, colored pencil on paper
30 x 40 inches
Collection of Fidelity Investments

When did you attend the NYSRP?

I attended the NYSRP in the fall semester in1995. That’s almost 20 years ago!

What motivated you to come to the Program?

I knew as an undergraduate New York City was where you moved to make it as an artist. Honestly, I can’t remember how I heard about the program. I think I saw a poster advertising it at my art school. When I realized you got to spend a semester in the city I applied.

What were your expectations before arriving at the NYSRP?

I expected to have a studio and get to know New York. These expectations were met and then some. The studios in TriBeCa were amazing. I’m still in touch with several of the artists I met in the program. The semester in the NYSP allowed me to move to NYC two years later with confidence and connections. I also had established a great group of friends that included artists who were in the program before and after me.

Most memorable experience?

There were two artists in the program with me who have gone on to have high profile careers. They both made memorable artworks while in the program. Branden Ballengee stayed up one night and made a wall size figurative drawing with shellac and urine. And for the final show Omer Fast passed out t-shirts with the word Auschwitz printed on them. My roommate in Cleveland unknowingly wore Omer’s t-shirt to the gym.

Did your experience prepare you better for Grad school? Where did you go to Grad School?

I went to grad school at Yale University 7 years after the NYSP. I lived in Brooklyn between undergrad and grad school. The NYSRP prepared me for New York City. NYC prepared me for grad school.

How has the NYSRP influenced your work and informed you as an artist?

I was in the NYSRP while I was still searching for my voice as an artist. I was experimenting with personal narrative and making drawings and sculpture. The program gave me the opportunity to work within a different group of artists. It’s always interesting to get out of your comfort zone and I remember getting some tough criticism. “You need to mix your colors.” “You should just skip a few steps.”

How has the NYSRP helped you on your path to be the successful practicing artist you are today?

As far as the art world was concerned I was totally unaware of the obstacles artists face to get noticed. While in the program I had no doubt I would move back to NYC start showing and eventually have my retrospective at the Whitney or MoMa. Jan Avgikos was fabulous and intimidating (and I didn’t understand any of the texts she assigned!) Glenn Goldberg was amazing to have around. The studios were open 24 hours, there was always someone around to talk to, there were crits and lectures, and it was all happening in TriBeCa. It felt like being an artist was the best way to live. And I still think that.

Can you share with us a recent and/or current exhibitions and projects?

Currently I’m in a group show called PAPER at The Saatchi Gallery in London closing September 29th and I’m included in Monya Rowe’s Inaugural Group Exhibition at her new gallery on the LES through mid-October.

Upcoming I have a solo show at Steven Zevitas in Boston opening in May 2014 and I have another solo scheduled with Monya Rowe Gallery in New York opening January 2015.

Tell us about your teaching experience?

I started teaching because I moved to Chicago. I owe my first job to a friend who asked me to fill in at the School Of the Art Institute because Gaylen Gerber was taking an unexpected leave. When the students realized their star professor was missing only 6 remained for the semester. I really had to wing it but in the end it worked out. I became good friends with several of the students from the class.

From there I’ve taught part-time at SAIC, Northwestern University and Columbia College. I’ve come into my own as a teacher and I’ve strengthened my drawing skills by teaching several basic drawing courses. It takes a lot of energy to teach. When my kids are older I might consider looking for a faculty position but right now I stick to one class per semester. Teaching keeps me informed and on my toes.

What suggestions/advice do you have for women who wish to raise kids and have a family while maintaining their art practice?

If you want kids have them. You can have them early in your career like me ( I was 33) or later but either way you’ll face the same sets of challenges. I knew I wanted to have children so at 27 when a relationship with an artist wasn’t going in that direction we broke it off and I went to grad school. I met someone who also really wanted children and who loves and respects art and the creative process.

With young children it’s not easy to find the time to work but I always found the time. Being a mom makes me a better artist. I want to be successful for my daughters. Before I had children I used to get very lonely. Painting is solitary and I’m a homebody. With Olive and Betty around I’m never lonely. They help me keep on a schedule and force me to be in the world. I’m happier as a mom.

You have made a go of it in Chicago, what advice do you have for those who aspire to have art careers outside of New York City?

I never let up. I always keep a studio schedule. Initially I curated shows, wrote for Beautiful Decay, and exhibited as much as possible – pretty much anywhere I could. It takes talent, time, patience, and ambition.

What is your relationship to NYC today?

I‘m no longer a New Yorker. I didn’t want to let go of that for a long time. I love the city. After many years of trying, pushing, emailing, etc I have a dealer in NYC. And like most things in the art world it happened suddenly and with the support of an artist friend who had the right contacts. I don’t know if you need New York to make it but I wanted to be a part of New York’s art scene so I made that a priority. However it was meeting and working with my dealer in Boston that helped my career take off.

What do you remember most about your NYSRP experience?

There was a bakery on the corner of Hudson and Desbrosses St. I’ve always been a morning person and I loved stopping in to get a cup of coffee and a bagel on the way to the studios. I was often the first person to arrive in the morning.