ART verses LIFE

by Rachel Otto

this is a Character Profile written for the subject Introduction to Professional Writing offered through the University of Newcastle

The walls of her studio are covered with pieces of her work, and as Ahn Wells hands me a hot cup of camomile tea, I feel I have entered her personal sanctuary.

At the Newcastle Community Arts Centre in Studio 25, Ahn looks comfortably at home behind her desk, eating her hot chips for a late lunch and relaxing after a busy morning. With balancing her artistic development, plans of an exhibition in October, her job at the Lake Macquarie City Libraries and now her time as a volunteer for Lifeline Australia, Ahn is constantly trying to keep up with herself.

I am immediately curious to know how this woman, who sits in front of me timidly drinking her tea, comes to control such a continually updating, multifaceted and seemingly satisfying lifestyle. Ahn’s development in artistic knowledge and her transitions from one art form to the next has shifted constantly while studying at both the Hunter St, TAFE (1997-1999) and the University of Newcastle (2000, 2002- July 2003) in the Newcastle region.

However, there is more to Ahn’s artistic growth then simply her learning from education organisations. Ahn informs me she was born in Seoul, South Korea, but was adopted at nine months old by Barbara and Geoff Wells, residents of Lake Macquarie. Contrasting to the common desire of adopted children to find their biological parents, Ahn looks and feels comfortable in saying “I have no want to find my Korean parents, Mum and Dad are my family”. “I have revisited Korea but I didn’t have any light-bulb moments, I thought I might’ve felt a sense of belonging, but I didn’t.” Ahn’s face shows no disappointment.

Her ‘belonging’ in Lake Macquarie is clear and she appears grateful that her upbringing has fuelled her most creative and fulfilling passion. “I don’t think I’d be doing art if I hadn’t grown up here.” The artist’s daily blog reflects a lot of development in her art, especially her influences, and also helps keep track of her thoughts and invites others into an artist’s world. Her comments upon the issues discussed in her blog consider the influences of her mother’s homely crafts as well as the historical aspect of art.

“Part of being an artist is knowing the history behind what you’re doing,” she says looking around the room at her artworks. “Mum has always been doing crafty stuff and is probably the major influence in my current works in textiles.” A hint of nostalgia and the satisfaction of her acquired knowledge are written all over her face as she speaks. The appreciation for her life in Australia is undoubted as she takes another sip of tea and continues to smile to herself.

I feel there is a deep bond between art and Ahn Wells and feel almost invasive in this meaningful moment. While her past presents itself as growing up amongst the world of art and having the homely predominant influence of her mother’s craftwork, it is a surprise to hear when Ahn tells of how her interest in the art world began with photography. As a first year student at Hunter St, TAFE in Newcastle, Ahn explains of her incorporation of not the search, but the formation and satisfaction of recognising her identity in her early photography. “I started with concentrating on domestic themes around home, family and identity,” Ahn explains. For Ahn, “self identity is important”. Being an adopted child has risen many questions for Ahn, but through her art she feels she has been able to find herself; who she really is.

As she furthered her artistic knowledge and experimentation, the desire for an ‘artistic identity’ became apparent. “For any artist, their identity and ability to be recognised through their work is a valuable thing.” “I would like to exhibit at least once a year, as a solo artist or with another artist,” that dreamy face reveals itself again as her she talks of these ambitions, “however, that’s not always possible”. “It sounds a bit egotistical but it’s just what you do as an artist, to put your stuff out there and say ‘Hey, look what I’ve done’,” Ahn jokes, coming back to the conversation.

Ahn and Anne McLaughlin who also shares Studio 25, will be hosting an exhibition later on this year in October at PODspace Gallery in Newcastle. With this exhibition in place, Ahn says how satisfying and fulfilling it is as an artist to exhibit and share your passion with others. Alternatively, Ahn does comment that “some artists do not want to exhibit; they do not have to exhibit,” which to new and nervous artists can be a comforting thought.

With her exploration for artistic identity, Ahn comments that some of her influences have not plainly based themselves around her home life, but also majorly the discovery of other artists. Ahn tells of her involvement in the art world, and how the immediate reaction of people is “Oh, do you paint? Or do you draw?”. Ahn’s latest shift in genre focuses more on “3D Fibre-Textile and works on paper”, a less common art genre, but to her, it is exciting.

Ahn emphasises that the discovery and exploration of art genre helps you realise what you want to be doing with your art. For Ahn, two influences of her more recent transitions into abstract art are Eva Hesse and even more recently, Sean Scully.

“I’ve moved to abstract because I’ve found it is art I like to do. It’s the way I see everything.” Ahn explains

Quoting herself from her blog, Ahn comments on her individual “obsession with repetition; obsession with a material; obsession with a design; obsession with a process but within this obsession lies a yearning to discover, reveal and accept difference and variation”.

As Ahn expresses the meaning and importance behind exploration in art, in allowing yourself to go beyond your comfortable zone, it is clear these are lessons she has learned and willing to teach. “I now concentrate on using materials as the meaning. What you do is use the materials to form meaning, not to conceal it.” As I ponder upon the meaning that is usually hidden and needed to be found in art, Ahn continues on how these realisations had come to form a desire to be an art therapist.

“When I finished Uni, I found about art therapy. This was a job though that needed experience as a counsellor, which is how I found out about Lifeline Australia” “It’s nice to do something outside the art stuff. I try to break up the stifling nature of art with other things.” Although Ahn’s volunteering with Lifeline is fairly new to her, her face depicts her desire to help others. “I like it. This is the way I can give something back.”

While Ahn is still in the early stages of her life, the experience already gained from her involvement in this organisation has helped her gain knowledge about where she wants to be, as a person and an artist. “It’s all experience really. It’s a big eye-opener.”

Ahn demonstrates the growth as an artist and person and is an idealistic model to those wanting to follow similar paths. Identity is important to her and the meaning in her work is taken from personal experiences, both outside art exploration and the processes within. Ahn confesses that just like as a person, being an artist you will never stop growing and there will always be something more to discover.

However her advice may be that “it is important to have interests outside of art and the art world”, as a fellow artist to students or individuals who find themselves wanting to be creative and learn, Ahn says “give it a go. If you want to have a go at it, just do it”.

Just like her artworks, the meanings from Ahn’s experiences are upfront and clear: there are always lessons to be learnt, knowledge to be acquired, and things you will continue to discover about yourself.

As an artist, Ahn illustrates the growth from beginning to success, the ability to reach goals, and the prospect of living with satisfaction with one’s self as well as the possibility of helping others along the way.

As I was not at all familiar with the way artist’s take experience and put it into their work, I felt that Ahn’s story helped me to discover all the possibilities in art. As a journalist, I wish to feel creative in the same manner as I feel the creativity in art and in writing are very similar. Getting to know another person and the ways their mind works is also another aspect that has helped me gain knowledge about the diversity in society and also the similarities amongst occupation and people. We all have different backgrounds, different stories and different perspectives, Ahn has taught me how to explore the possibilities and to remember there is always a way to your success that involves helping others as well.

As a journalist point of view, I feel I have much to learn from this experience. There is much more out there that I do not know about the career choice I am making. It has made me excited to know about what I do not know. Ahn Wells is a role model to anyone aspiring to do something. Whether you have the talent or the upbringing, Ahn’s story speaks to me as anything is possible if you strive to get where you want.

As the Profile is aimed at the Herald, a Newcastle-based paper, I feel Ahn’s story reaches out to young artists, fellow artists, and also could be the beginning for better things in the future for Ahn as well.

Rachel Otto
first year student
B. Communications
University of Newcastle

June 2010