Seattle Artist Series:
I first meet Anne Siems at her home and studio in Ballard. As we exchange greetings, I’m immediately taken in by the comfort I feel in her presence. Anne’s house radiates a warmth and tranquility, her shelves adorned with handmade art objects, plants, and books. She shares the space with her husband, teenage daughter, and two dogs. She makes us tea, setting out strawberries as we lounge in the garden.
Anne moved to Seattle from Germany in 1991 after finishing her MFA in visual art. First represented by Grover/Thurston Gallery in Pioneer Square, her artwork has traveled through more states and cities than I can name.
Anne’s paintings have a quiet otherworldly ambiance, like haunted relics lifted from fairy tales. Working in a variety of media and scales, Anne largely paints portraits of women and children. Their expressions are liminal, as if caught between one emotion and the next. In their semi-translucent garments and distorted bodies, they often seem regally serene yet uneasy in their surroundings. Magical realism echoes through each of her pieces, creating an atmospheric lightness in their abstractions.
I begin to photograph her as she paints, the pups looking on lazily.
“While going to school in Germany, I studied in the US for one year. Then, my first husband and I decided to move. Seattle was almost chosen at random. This was before the internet, so we were fortunate. I was a little surprised at how great of a fit it was; Seattle was really interested in fostering the arts. People were a little more reserved, so it felt more European. I really loved being here.
It took me a long time to feel at home, mostly because I couldn’t access nature. It felt very bombastic – dark, and heavy in a way. Germany just felt more bucolic, with rolling hills and land. Once I got into my shamanic work, I completely flipped. It was like a door had opened and I found the landscape here so deep and rich. Native Americans have lived here for longer than anywhere else in the US. Their art and spirit is so much more accessible, whereas in Europe shamanic arts are buried under culture and history. Here, you go to the forest and feel transformed if you’re open to it. When I tapped into shamanic work, I felt a deep sense of belonging.”
“I like the sense of tension, like walking a fine line between something sweet and beautiful, but there has to be an element of darkness or depth. Life is this place between shadow and light. I’m always interested in work that walks the fine line.”
“I’ve always done side projects like working with fabric or wool, but ceramics felt different. I love doing something tactile and manual. With pottery, Raku especially, I was really content with what I was making. It slowly became my other creative life. Both with pottery and painting, I’m interested in work that looks old but clearly isn’t. With ceramics, I really like the idea of creating something that looks like an ancient treasure, scraped free and dug out of dirt. I love little talismans or sacred objects. I’d say that my pottery has a closer connection to my shamanic work and my interest in ceremony and ritual. I see them as sacred vessels.”
“What I tell my students is that you have to do your work whether you want to or not. You have to be disciplined around it. It’s not just going to happen when you feel inspired. You have to be driven, you can’t just dabble. You have to feel like this is what you need to do.
I find it important that you really love your workspace too. I tell artists who are just starting out to paint in the most beautiful room in their home.”
One week later, Anne and I meet at Discovery Park with Lucy (one of her pups) right as magic hour approaches and the sun prepares to set. She guides me through her route, picking up feathers and berries on the way.
“On one of my many walks in Discovery Park, I felt pulled to this tree. It felt very large sitting on the meadow and had branches all the way to the bottom. It was tent-like to go into it. I was amazed at the Cathedral structure; it felt as if being in a small chapel. You have the smell and the branches and the light in the air, the sense of being held and contained in it. When I was first called in, I found a beautiful nest underneath.
Sometimes I pass here and just say a greeting to the tree. Several times, I’ve been pulled to go under it and pick up trash and dirt and toxic plants. To me, it’s just really important to be of service and leave no trace behind. It’s letting this being know that I see it, that I appreciate it, and that I’m aware of its awareness of me. All things in nature are seeing us and it’s an incredible experience to let the tree look at you and sense you. We’re not just spectators at things. Sentient beings are part of us and plants have so much more wisdom than we do. They’ve figured out how to carve out a living for so much longer than we have. I’m just mesmerized by every living thing.”
“I think that beauty – artmaking – is vital to us being human.”
“I remember when I was younger, I would go on a hike and see the landscape. That was really it. Now I go, and I see the landscape as a whole complex being. I see the entire composition while the symphony plays and I perceive the hums. It’s a beautiful way to really be in the world. It’s so much more rich than just being a spectator.”