Oolite artists-in-residence program returns to Anderson Ranch

Program offers resources, community to Miami-based artists

Oolite artist-in-residence Chire "VantaBlack" Regans works on a series of large-scale portraits of the women in her family in a studio at Anderson Ranch Arts Center. “Having this space really shaped where I could go artistically,” Regans said.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

For artists-in-residence at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, five weeks goes by fast — too fast, almost.

“There’s not enough time at the end to do everything I wanted to do,” said filmmaker and photographer Jayme Gershen.

Gershen is one of 14 Miami-based artists participating in the 2021 Oolite Arts Home and Away residency at Anderson Ranch, which began Feb. 3 and runs through March 9.

Anderson Ranch provides housing, meals, studio space and access to its wide range of facilities and resources in Snowmass Village; Oolite Arts, an organization that supports visual artists in the Miami-Dade area, sponsors participants and provides an additional $2,500 unrestricted stipend for costs beyond the already-covered accommodations and travel.

(Part-time local Dennis Scholl, a filmmaker, art collector and philanthropist who splits his time between Aspen and Miami, is Oolite’s president and CEO and a longtime supporter of Anderson Ranch.)

It took nearly 11 months for Anderson Ranch to reach the point at which it could host artists-in-residence after a hiatus amid COVID-19 restrictions. The 2020 Oolite cohort was the last group of artists-in-residence to set foot on the campus a year ago; they returned to Miami barely a week before shutdowns went into effect.

“The camaraderie is something you don’t always get,” noted Chire “VantaBlack” Regans, a portrait artist in the painting and drawing studio who uses her work to amplify voices and explore ideas about social justice through the lens of “a storyteller and an advocate.”

“Having this space really shaped where I could go artistically,” Regans said. She’s currently working on a series that contemplates legacy through a series of portraits of the women in her family, each of which is several times the size of some of her other works.

The residency helped Regans realize that “it’s OK to push yourself, it’s OK to explore, it’s OK to step outside your comfort zone,” she said.

After so much isolation, the bubble-like environment of the residency allows the residents to interact in a way they haven’t been able to for nearly a year. The artists are tested regularly and not only work but also live and dine on the grounds of Anderson Ranch; most off-campus exploration happens on nearby trails and open spaces.

“Having this community of artists, and we’re all very close — it’s been a blessing,” said Amanda Season Keeley, an artist-in-residence in the sculpture studio. That community includes local masters, too; working with them helped Keeley “go big” and, for the first time, create her own terrazzo tiles that together will spell the word “calm” in a font she designed.

“I’m just going to try, because when am I going to have the opportunity to do this again?” Keeley said. “I’m so thrilled about learning something new.”

Space is likewise a key component of the experience.

“This is the first studio I’ve ever had,” said illustrator Terrell Villiers. His work exploring Black queer livelihood and coming of age mostly lives on his computer; printers and printmaking facilities at the ranch have enabled Villiers to bring that art into more physical forms and introduce it to new eyes during studio visits from curators.

“I’m just really grateful to have the time and the space to creative,” Villiers said. “I’ve been happy — I’ve just been really happy.”

That chance to experiment — plus the abundance of resources at Anderson Ranch — has opened new doors for artistic expression for many of the artists in the program.

Oolite artist-in-residence Jayme Gershen experiments with ceramics in a studio at Anderson Ranch Arts Center. Gershen, a filmmaker, is exploring different mediums after finishing a feature film during her residency.

Gonzalo Fuenmayor, a resident in the painting and drawing studio, experimented with sculpture, 3-D printing and ceramics. Joshua Veasey, who usually works with photography, fiber and assemblage, tried screenprinting. Gershen, the filmographer, began to explore new mediums like ceramics, sculpture and printmaking after finishing a feature film in the early weeks of the residency.

“It felt like you could really send an email to anyone and explore any department,” Gershen said.

With just a few days remaining before the artists fly back to Miami on Tuesday, this week is crunch time for residents hoping to complete projects they might not have the facilities or resources to complete at home.

But by and large, the pace at Anderson Ranch has mostly been a relaxed one that allows artists to engage with their work without the added pressure of other responsibilities and obligations.

“I’ve slowed down a bit,” Gershen said; she’s taking more time now to explore, rest and think.

The change of tempo — and of environment — at Anderson Ranch affords the artists a freedom that filmmaker Freddy Rodriguez appreciates. He has used his time at the ranch to develop a script from a short film he wrote into a feature and further to explore themes of queer experience, cultural identity and autobiography.

“I think I’ve discovered what kind of filmmaker I am, which is huge,” Rodriguez said.

The experience is about more than the work itself, Rodriguez noted: spending five weeks with a group of residents as diverse in their disciplines as in their backgrounds and experiences has allowed him to engage with new perspectives from a community of artists that he might not otherwise meet.

“One of the reasons I really came is to connect,” he said.