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Culture » Culture Features

The Ghost of Pigments Past

Artist Anna Magruder brings new life to history

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A tinge of nostalgia creeps through the collected works of Portland oil painter Anna Magruder. The sepia-tone portraits, the skewed facial proportions and the knitting together of animal and human mark her work. But it's not a sadness or wistfulness for the past that inspires Magruder's storytelling painting style, it's a fascination with her subjects' untold stories. Magruder is The Source Weekly's cover artist, and artist of the month.

Source Weekly: What's up with animal heads on human bodies?

Anna Magruder: As much as I love painting portraits, I sometimes need to take a break and branch out—to paint animal faces! I identify strongly with traits of certain animals, and I like to bring out the subtle idiosyncrasies of my subjects' personalities (imagined or real) in a more obvious manner—such as turning the person into their "totem" animal. And sometimes, I will depict the person and include the animal as a companion.

SW: Your use of color seems very deliberate. Is there a draw to muted colors for you?

AM: My imagery is often inspired by old photos—which are usually in black and white—so I get to interpret it with my own colors. I am drawn to muted colors, as they have a softer, more vintage look to them than saturated colors. I do occasionally love adding red hair to my figures. It brings a pop of color, which might speak to the person's vibrant essence, creates a focal point and adds interest.

SW: What is your attraction to vintage America?

AM: While I am inspired by many past eras, particularly I am interested in exploring images of people from the late 19th century and early-mid 20th century. My maternal grandparents instilled a love of vintage things in me at an early age. When my family visited my grandparents, we would explore the local antique shops and flea markets. My love of vintage treasure hunts and the thrill of the "find" has carried over into my artwork, as now I am always on the lookout for striking images from bygone days. I also collect old photos and yearbooks, which I use for inspiration in my art. There is something about past hairstyles and clothing that I find fascinating and just can't get enough of.

SW: Tell me about the Regional Arts & Culture Council grant you received?

AM: I received a 2014 Regional Arts & Culture Council grant to cover funds for a series of paintings I intend to create honoring Oregon's historic past. "Oregon's Painted History" will be an exhibit of oil paintings depicting some of the more colorful, less-known stories from bygone days in Oregon. My inspiration for the show will come from researching topics across an approximate 100-year stretch (1850–1950), such as prohibition, the prostitution trade, the exploitation of Chinese workers and the Portland Underground. Rather than trying to recreate exact scenes of actual events, I plan to employ "historic surrealism," which will rely on symbols and metaphors to help capture the emotional impact and broader implications of the topics I select. Individuals representing a larger group of people will be the focal point of my stories. The completed series will be on exhibit August to September at Portland's Architectural Heritage Center.

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