Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Meet the Muralist: A Profile of Ann Northrup

Meet the Muralist: A Profile of Ann Northrup
By AFSC-NC Intern Rebecca Muller

Ann Northrup, mural artist for the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) “Windows and Mirrors” project, hopes that this exhibition can help bring an end to the war in Afghanistan. She believes that art has the power to affect peoples’ emotions, and that the variety of approaches taken by the artists in this show is a source of its power. “Each artist has taken a different approach, exploring his or her own feelings in a search for truth and relevance to the feelings and needs that we all share,” she said.

Northrup, of Philadephia, PA, first received word about the exhibition when AFSC contacted Mural Arts, which sends event notices to all of the artists. Initially she was hesitant about participating in “Windows and Mirrors.” “I assumed the organizers might want only political statements, or angry art about violence. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to delve into those feelings. But then I felt there are probably lots of people like me who turn away if a picture is too upsetting,” Northrup said.

She realized that she could reach out to people with an image of hope. “I wanted to paint a portrait of a child with whom people could identify and whom they would want to protect,” she said. “I wanted to show the beauty of the extraordinary land that is being ravaged by war.” This desire led Northrup to create “Mountain Kites”, a mural depicting a young child with a hopeful expression flying kites over the picturesque mountains of Afghanistan.

She felt that her painting could hark to a time in the future where human aspiration would be possible again as well as to a peaceful future. “I wanted an image that people could identify with, a child that they could fall in love with and that they would want to cherish and protect,” she said.

Northrup had a large collection of photos from foreign lands due to her recent work on a downtown Philadelphia mural called “ One World”, a cinematic scene of blended landscapes and hundreds of people from every continent on a 38 x 48 foot wall. She had asked for pictures from friends, family, and students who had been overseas.

She used five photos in designing for “Mountain Kites”, two for the people and three for the landscape. “It was a little hard sometimes to make sure the images were actually of Afghanistan. I had great pictures, one of the Dolpo Pa people of Nepal. Though I couldn't tell the difference, lots of other people can,” Northrup said.

The medium for the mural is acrylic paint on "parachute cloth" or Polytab, a thin, absorbent non-woven material similar to interfacing. “Once painted, it's a little brittle and delicate, actually, for the use we are putting it to here. Luckily, the organizers abandoned the idea of setting it up outdoors, because the wind would have shredded all the panels by now,” she said.

Her classical training has enabled her to convey an emotional message, and create meaning through color and composition. Northrup wanted to create an atmospheric and soft movement of the landscape back into space and skyward, transitioning from dark to light, warm to cool, and high to low contrast.

Aside from her face, the child has the soft shapes and cool tones represented in the landscape. “Those tones and colors, as well as the two kites she carries, identify her with the flying kite far back in the sky, a symbol of freedom,” Northrup said.

Students have asked Northrup why she believed other painters used colors so different from hers. “Other artists have different things they want to say about the war. Some are angry and feel we are being used, as our tax money is funding the war. They may use strident color because they want to be noticed and they want us to feel jarred by their message. Others want to express their horror at the human suffering, and they may use dark or heavy color to express that,” she said.

Northrup believes that the symbolism of art has a unique way of influencing people. “I feel like art has a special power to reach into the subconscious and affect people on a deeper level, sometimes without their noticing. I think you are affected by these associations, even if you don't notice the techniques of how associations are made visually.”

This interview was conducted in conjunction with the national, traveling mural exhibition Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan, currently on display in Guilford College’s Library Atrium through May 7th, 1pm.

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