What works are you showing for your thesis project?
For the thesis show, I’m showing a large tree rubbing from where I grew up in Vermont. That piece will be alongside a collection of thistle seeds in stacked containers. I’m interested in presenting these two pieces side-by-side to show a span of time, and a breath of scale, and physicality. The rubbing is 13 feet by 10 feet, and the seeds are in small craft painting containers.
What’s the process like for creating your tree rubbings?
I work with trees I have developed a close connection to. I begin by wrapping and stretching around the entire trunk with muslin, usually reaching as high as I can with my body, and then start the rubbing. Once I finish the rubbing, which has so far taken anywhere between one to four days, I remove the muslin and later stretch it onto a frame structure. It becomes this attempt to record the tree’s intricate surfaces.
What drew you to this way of working?
I started out working primarily in oil paint. I’ve always felt a strong sentiment toward trees, but I couldn’t find a way to paint them that really captured them. I’m interested in how rubbings have relationships to processes like printmaking, drawing, and painting, as well as in the context of recreational activities, like leaf rubbings in school. The process slowly made its way into my practice through experimentation with materials.
How has it change your relationship with making and nature?
It’s brought them closer together. I think part of the initial disconnect for me with painting was that it felt like a big distance, and the rubbing brings the interaction as close together as possible, actually touching the tree. Rubbing brings that touch and physicality to the environment in a way that other modes of making couldn’t for me.
How did you become an artist in the first place?
I grew up dancing and performing a lot, mostly ballet. In college I studied psychology, but art slowly became a more serious passion and bigger part of my life, and eventually I added a second major in art. But I was also lucky to grew up in a home where we were always making things and had projects around the house, so that has played a big role.
What’s surprised you about this project?
I really enjoy how this process lends itself to a mobile way of working outside of the studio. It’s funny how the rubbings, after taking them off the trees, become these small, folded-up packages. Then when they’re unwrapped, it becomes this monumental reveal. I love that part of it. Plus, in a way, I get to bring my favorite trees back with me.
When someone sees your work for the first time, what do you hope they feel or experience?
I hope they feel intimacy and curiosity. I love seeing people come up really close to my pieces and have that interaction. It’s really important to me. I hope it prompts a new perception of this tree or these seeds, and expands beyond that to a broader level of curiosity and wonder.
Anna Schenker reflected on the scope of her practice, time at WashU, and thesis project leading up to the MFA in Visual Art thesis exhibition. This is an edited transcript of Schenker’s words as told to Caitlin Custer.