Home work: Artist reflects on area and self after moving back

FARGO -- As a milliner, fashion designer, entrepreneur, businesswoman and arts advocate, it's safe -- if not overly obvious -- to call Anna Lee a woman of many hats.
A painting by Anna Lee is part of her show "Homecoming" at Luna. Courtesy of Anna Lee / Special to The Forum

FARGO - As a milliner, fashion designer, entrepreneur, businesswoman and arts advocate, it's safe - if not overly obvious - to call Anna Lee a woman of many hats.

Lately, the designer has been doffing her hat(s) and picking up paintbrushes for a show, "Homecoming: Paintings by Anna Lee," at Luna Fargo. The show has been up for a few weeks, but Lee will host a reception Saturday afternoon, Sept. 15.

Painting isn't a new endeavor for the artist, who studied it in college at Minnesota State University Moorhead in the 1990s, but after she moved back to Fargo-Moorhead three years ago, she's found herself in front of a canvas repeatedly.

"I've been painting like crazy and people are connecting with it and that means a lot to me," she says earlier this month at a table in Luna, 1545 S. University Drive.


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The "Gray Matter Series," an ongoing work that Lee does, emerges from the messy area between two extremes. She adds that the show on Saturday, "Sense of Self," has more of a feminist theme. The dark space is the perceived natural unraveling in a woman's creativity that ultimately makes her stronger.

The exhibit may have feminine undertones, but the works have appealed to both genders.

"This show has generated a lot of excitement from our patrons," says Nikki Ness Berglund, owner of Luna. "I already have a piece picked out."

What people are connecting with changes from individual to individual.

Lee's paintings are non-representational, but it's easy to see what people could be drawn to in the art. For some, it could be the broad splashes of colors. Others may see the movement in the brushstrokes as undulating waves on a body of water. Still, others may see reflections of their own emotions in what could seem like calm for some and chaos to others.

"When it's an abstract painting, people put their own experience and emotions on them," Lee says. "The resolutions of my emotions are what you see. People pick up on that depth without understanding why."

"Homecoming" is a sibling project of Lee's "Gray Matter Series," or ongoing collaborations with other artists. For the current evolution, "Gray Matter Series: Sense of Self," she has paired with Twin Cities filmmakers, photographers, models, makeup artists and stylists for a short movie featuring her paintings, hats and fabric featuring her paintings. The movie will be launched at Saturday's reception.

One of the sequences shows Lee painting over a painting she made of a model wearing one of her hats. The painting is featured in "Homecoming" and carries on a trend of her painting over her own works, some going as far back as college.

"I'm all about evolving into what needs to happen next," she says. "Nothing is too precious to change into what it needs to be."

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That sense of facing the past and carrying on into the future is something she's been exploring since her return to Fargo-Moorhead.

"There are all kinds of complex emotions about moving back to your hometown. Coming to terms with complicated relationships," she says.

While the Twin Cities metro has some things Fargo-Moorhead doesn't, she's looking forward to fall and winter and the productivity and introspection she gains in those indoor months.

"I can go so deep in my work here," she says. "What I'm learning to do is take the things I'm feeling and seeing and turn them into art."

If you go

What: Anna Lee reception

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15

Where: Luna Fargo, 1545 S. University Drive, Fargo

Info: This event is free and open to the public.