A Sense of Urban Urgency

Jennifer duToit-Barrett interviews
Ann Calandro


Art editor Jennifer duToit-Barrett recently had this exchange with Issue #43 featured artist Ann Calandro. Here’s what Ann had to say about growing up in New York and its influence on her art, her work as a children’s book author and illustrator and more… 
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Art editor Jennifer duToit-Barrett recently had this exchange with Issue #43 featured artist Ann Calandro. Here’s what Ann had to say about growing up in New York and its influence on her art, her favorite materials, her work as a children’s book author and illustrator and more… 

Collage can frequently produce a sort of chatter and clutter. This series has a sense of urban urgency, in particular Desire Lines and Heart of a City Planner. Are you currently living in a large city? Or is this the result of a constant influence of being raised in New York City?

Yes, the sense of urban urgency in many of my collages is a result of growing up on the 20th floor of an apartment building with parents who were also raised in the city. In addition, my father was a city planner. I do not currently live in a large city or even a small city, but I consider myself lucky to live near enough to New York City to be able to travel to it fairly often without too much trouble. Other cities have also provided me with inspiration for collages: St. Louis, where I lived for six years; Chicago, which I visit often to see relatives; and the various cities I have visited as a tourist.

How do you approach making a new piece? What are your favorite materials to work with? 

I sometimes get my ideas for a new collage from a phrase in a book (or movie or poem or article or song or news article) or from something someone says in conversation. For example, the title Desire Lines came from an article on architecture. Other times, I decide to make a collage of a particular scene (a family event, someone drinking coffee at a diner, someone sitting on a stoop in a city), and then I think of a title for it once I am done with the collage. That was the case with The Family Room. My favorite materials to work with are textured art papers, but it used to be easier to find them for sale. I also like colored pencils, soft pastels, bits of fabric, and various types of pens and markers. Sometimes I’ll use a little acrylic paint, too, but painting is not my strong point. I like looking at paintings, and I admire artists who paint (watercolor, oil, acrylic), but I’ve accepted that I’m not one of them. I also like to take photographs, and I frequently incorporate my photographs into my collages. 

As both a visual artist and writer, do you frequently insert narratives, stories, and/or actual words into your artwork?

Yes, I frequently insert words into my collages. Sometimes I write the words, and other times I use stickers (letters or images) or cut-out pieces of newspaper. And I think most, if not all, of my collages tell some kind of story.

What was your inspiration to write and illustrate children’s books?

Children’s books were a big part of my childhood. My mother was a children’s librarian (although she did not work as a librarian), and my parents used to go to a lot of library book sales, so there were always different books coming in and out of the apartment. I always loved fables and fairy tales, and I liked the directness of the best children’s books (for example, The Snowy Day and Maggie and the Pirate, both by Ezra Jack Keats). So I always wanted to write and illustrate a children’s book, and when I finally did, I found it very hard to write–harder to write than to illustrate. Using fewer words (and words with fewer syllables) makes writing harder, not easier, at least for me. 

Many of your pieces speak to relationships: relationship with family; relationship with a place; or, even, relationship with weather. I believe this leads to rich storytelling. Are you inspired by real life experiences?

Memories of my childhood and my relatives and actual events, such as playing jacks on a stoop or looking out my window, have inspired many of my collages. 

The Family Room might be the most endearing piece of the series, showing family members playing music together and instruments placed around the room. You write that you often find inspiration from songs for your work. Are you also a musician? Do you have a favorite genre, band, or musician you often return to for inspiration?

I take classical piano lessons. I guess I’m at a late-intermediate level. It’s not something I did as a child, but it is something I always wanted to do, so when I came into possession of a used upright piano as an adult, I started taking lessons. So I like classical music, especially of the 19th century, and especially works for solo piano and chamber music (trios, duets, quartets, quintets). I like opera. I also like gospel music, such as the songs of Ruth Davis and the Fabulous Davis Sisters, and I also like folk music, rock music, and country music. I’m not a huge fan of jazz or of modern classical music. 

By Ann Calandro

Ann Calandro is a medical editor, mixed media collage artist, and classical piano student. Her poems, short stories, and artwork have been published in various print and online venues.