Hope. Love. Rest. Peace. Community. Resilience. Calm. Purpose. Connection. Wellness.
St. Paul artist Anne Labovitz places these healing words in soaring swaths of color that greet visitors to her latest exhibit, “The Nexus of Well-Being and Art,” at the Rochester Art Center. Labovitz created the works over the course of 2½ years, blending her painting with research and medical interviews to look at the importance of art in healing.
It seems appropriate that the exhibition is located in the Minnesota city internationally known for its medical center and health care.
“‘The Nexus of Well-Being and Art‘ is an examination and experimentation with light and color and the conceptual premise of art’s connection to well-being,” Labovitz explains in an artist’s statement. “These works are based on years of investigating color and light, and the emotional impact they have on the observer.”
In a recent interview, she noted, “I have a lifelong interest in the human condition—connecting creativity and self-expression with health.” Her undergraduate degree from Hamline University in St. Paul is in art and psychology.
Labovitz’s healing words rest in waves of color panels that dip in graceful loops hanging by wires from the top of the three-story art center atrium. Titled “Will to Meaning,” the massive, light-filled installation is 40 by 35 feet. Each panel is 5 feet wide.
In two galleries upstairs, more than 30 new works make up the exhibit, including more shimmering folds that hang just a foot off the floor and seem to breathe as visitors move the air by walking around. Labovitz says it engages the audience. “Everything is intentional.”
The panels sway like silk or fabric, but they’re actually acrylic painted on Tyvek. Yes, the same material that’s used as a vapor barrier in home construction.
Labovitz started working with Tyvek in 2017, when she needed to find a material that rolled up lighter than canvas or paper for works that were part of a traveling exhibit. She says it took her 3½ months to figure out how to get the paint to stay on the material, which repels moisture.
She works on 15-foot lengths in her studio, in St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone near University Avenue. Each section is painted and left to dry for 24 hours. Sometimes, Labovitz says, she’ll get up on a ladder with a camera to give herself perspective.
And both sides are painted.
The intensive process is part of Labovitz’s 100-hour work weeks. Twelve-hour days are a minimum, she says.
Creating art is primal for her, and she says she leans into Victor Frankel’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” which says, “finding meaning is a person’s main motivating force.”
“That is my purpose,” says Labovitz, who is married to writer and musician Bill Gamble and has three grown children. “That is the thing that gets me out of bed at 5 a.m.”
Hobbies and outside interests? She laughs. “I used to cook, until my daughter took over.”
An artist for “30 solid years,” she created the pieces for “The Nexus of Well-Being and Art” over a long period, so the work is “an autobiographical marker of my life.”
About the artist
Labovitz, 58, grew up in Duluth. Her grandmother was an artist who used to paint her portrait, she says, and talked of the importance of human connection.
Labovitz got a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Transart Institute at Plymouth University in Berlin in 2017. It’s a program between Berlin and New York, she says, which connected her to artists and creative types from around the world.
Her work has been shown in museums from Winona, Minnesota, to Japan and Kurdistan. To her, art is an idea and an action, and she has pieces in the permanent collections of major Twin Cities museums, from the Walker Art Center to the Minnesota Museum of American Art. A 2021 exhibition of her work at Concordia College in St. Paul focused on hope, and before that, in 2020, she was part of a get-out-the-vote effort with 22 artists. The same year, she created new works in response to the COVID-19 isolation. She is also an adjunct professor and mentor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design
For now, Labovitz is creating pieces that will be exhibited at the Minnesota State Capitol in 2024, and an exhibition in La Jolla, California. A permanent largescale installation of mosaics by Labovitz is at Terminal 1 of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.
About the exhibit
“The Nexus of Well-Being and Art” is displayed in two galleries at the Rochester Art Center, in addition to the installation in the atrium. The exhibit in the galleries runs through July 30. The atrium installation will be on display throughout 2023.
The works in the galleries are divided into light and dark spaces, looking at “light as a metaphor for life,” Labovitz says. “We need dark moments to appreciate the good.”
In the light gallery, three 6-by-6-foot canvas paintings are “text-based,” using words from conversations Labovitz had with researchers, therapists, and doctors who talked about the importance of art in health. Profiles of the experts are on a wall opposite the paintings.
Labovitz found examples of art and wellness that include a nutritionist who encourages people struggling with weight to use a hobby or creative activity as a substitute when they feel the urge to eat.
A physician who deals with breast reconstruction encourages her patients to use some form of expression—poetry or art—to help with stress, Labovitz says.
Physicians have even prescribed museum visits, according to exhibit background information.
The “Well-Being Wall” in the light gallery lets visitors respond to the question “What does well-being mean to you?” by writing on colorful squares that are displayed on the walls. Comments on the wall include: “Being with those who make you happy.” “Being safe.” “When life’s hard, get a cat.” “Without change, we wouldn’t have butterflies.”
In the darker gallery, three 6-by-6-foot works created from Tyvek over an acrylic vitrine, each lighted by 576 LED lights, glow in hues of blue. The hanging piece—which is similar to the atrium installation, but smaller—is also in this gallery.
A look at Anne Labovitz at work
Anne Labovitz’s white-walled studio on University Avenue in St. Paul is splashed with color. There are vivid strips of painted Tyvek on a long, wide table just inside the door. The multi-colored panels will dangle from wires in a new piece in progress. Works from previous exhibits line the walls. There’s a huge “crumpled” piece tucked into an alcove and rolls of her large works are stacked along walls.
And though she always dresses in black, Labovitz is a splash of color herself, enthusiastically talking about her life as an artist for three decades. Here’s a bit of a recent conversation with Labovitz in her studio.
Music while you work? Labovitz never listens to music while she’s painting. She’s plugged into audio books and just finished listening to words by poet Maya Angelou. “I’m really obsessed with women’s literature,” she says. She’s been listening to writing by female British authors like George Eliot from the 1790s to 1920s, methodically going through all their works and then listening to autobiographies or biographies. “It’s a bit obsessive,” Labovitz admits.
She also listens to taped conversations from the research she does for her exhibitions, such as interviews she did for her current exhibit, “The Nexus of Well-Being and Art.” She interviewed doctors, researchers, and medical professionals about the importance of art and health.
Work, work, work. Labovitz works at least 12 hours a day, she says. Some of that time is in the third-floor studio in the Dow Building, some is at her St. Paul home in a workspace she calls “the dungeon.” She’s also an adjunct professor at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, on the board of directors at the Walker Art Center and other institutions, and does her own marketing and applications for grants and commissions and research.
“Whatever I’m doing is all work,” she says. On a recent vacation, she painted a series of tiny art books.
“It’s not about inspiration,” she admits. “It’s about showing up and getting to work.”
Labovitz also says her work is all about light and color, but it’s not light-hearted. “I’m serious about optimism.”
Wardrobe ease. Labovitz says she was in graduate school when she decided to simplify her wardrobe and just wear black. She adds a big pendant and some jewelry. In the studio, her clothes are spattered with paint, right down to her shoes. Once while wearing the speckled footwear, someone asked her where she got her cool shoes.
Floating new ideas. Labovitz gets up at 5 a.m. to swim every day. She says it’s the only time she’s not working. “That’s where I do my thinking.”
The notebook. Plans, notes, and calculations are part of the notebook Labovitz writes in every day. “It’s how my life operates.”
“I Love You Institute.” When Labovitz was sidelined by a severe case of COVID-19 early in the pandemic, she wanted to do something to help students and others deal with the isolation. Working with a teacher friend, she created packets of postcards and art supplies for her friend’s students. The work continues with events and exhibitions, classes, and performances.
Fueling the work. Labovitz doesn’t stop to go out for lunch during her time in the studio. She always brings lunch and snacks – “highly healthy food.” But she says she’s an omnivore. Dinner is at 8:30 p.m. at home.
For more information on Labovitz and her work, go to labovitz.com.