Olly Olly Oxen Free: Stephanie King + Pam McDonnell

Anne Neilson Fine Art Gallery is happy to present Stephanie King (left) + Pam McDonnell (right), the dynamic duo whose collaborative show Olly Olly Oxen Free opens this Thursday evening, March  14th 6-8pm. While each artist brings their own style + personality to this body of work, as individual artists coming together to create, it’s their respective attributes + lives that distinguish each of them. Both artists answered the same questions and while their responses have their variations, one can seen their obvious parallels.

Read on to learn more about each artist!

When did you start your career in art? How long have you known you wanted to be an artist?

S: “I started my career in art right after college. My major was graphic design so I worked in advertising for about 7 years doing design work. I was anxious to get away from a desk job and went to Atlanta to learn decorative painting. After about 6 years into that I started painting on my own and showed my first piece of art in a gallery in 2006. I have been drawing and painting since I was 3 or 4 and never wanted to be anything else!”

P: “I began my career after my children started elementary school.  The larger chunks of time were what I needed to dive in and explore. After five years of working very hard, I began to understand my personal practice on a deep level.  It was only until then that I was able to produce a cohesive body of work to show publicly.

I have been making and creating since I can remember and always looking at things as “items with potential.”  Finishing was always a challenge but I have matured in my practice and am able to push the doubt when a project is feeling like a dead-end. I graduated from college as an adult student and focused on Graphic Design in the hopes I could both support myself and be a creative.  By the time I was able to put my education to practice, painting and drawing were the only things that interested me.”

Describe your aesthetic in three words:

S: “Naturalistic, enchanting, figurative” (see left)

P: “Balanced, delicate, moody” (see right)


Describe your artistic process and preparation—How do you start your creative process?

S: “Wow. My process is a little laborious. I don’t want to bore you with details. I rely heavily on drawing. I usually draw an image several times before I transfer a good drawing to paper.”

P: “My creative process almost always starts with drawing.  I have a warm-up exercise that involves drawing tangled, knotted strings that wrap around each other. Doing this exercise for 15 or 20 minutes shifts my brain into focus.  I don’t need the exercise every day but knowing its there if I feel stuck is reassuring.  My physical process starts with a pencil on paper.  Many years ago, a friend introduced me to a quote by Chuck Close where he basically says inspiration is for amateurs and that great ideas form during the work process. I find this to be true and it is my motto “just get up and start working, the ideas will come as you go along.”

Favorite piece you’ve painted to date—why?

S: “I have a favorite project but not necessarily a favorite painting.  I collaborated with The Land of Nod on their Camp Wandawega line of children’s furnishings. Check-out Camp Wandawega online of you’re looking for a charming, unique and campy vacation destination.”

P: “Perhaps it would be the diptych I did for West Cancer Clinic in Memphis, TN.  It is two 12’ panels done in oil.  I have been profoundly altered by Cancer—as has most everyone I know in one way or another.  This piece came about through a dream and to see it come to life was an exciting experience.  The reason I chose this as my favorite piece is because several times a month, I will get a message from someone who is at West either being treated or supporting someone, and tell me how much peace it brings them.  That is why I make art: to connect and “to remember to remember.”

Photograph of work installed at West Cancer Clinic in Memphis, TN. Click here for full image.

Who inspires you personally and/or professionally?

S: “Professionally I am inspired by so many artists, but for the past two years I have fallen in love with Rithika Merchants work. I love her work for the story telling quality of her art and I also find that she exhibits totem-like structures that I obviously identify with. She recently has been collaborating with the designer Chloe on textiles and accessories. I am obsessed!

Personally, I am inspired by the dean of our church who unfortunately for us just took a new job in another city. I will forever be inspired to be a better human just knowing him.”

Rithika Merchant | Emotional Landscapes, 2018 | 32 x 32 cms | Embroidery hoop with gouache and ink on paper. Click here to view source.

P: “Personally I am inspired by the goodness in people. And there is so much good.  People are looking for it —just smile at people and make eye contact and they magnetize to the simple goodness in that connection.  I guess you could say I’m inspired by pure optimism. Professionally, I am inspired by people who are driven to make for the sake of making, who are able to detach themselves from the market of art, and who are raw, honest and vulnerable inside of their work.”

Pt. 1: What challenges do you think exist in the world of fine art?

S: “I think social media has been a game changer for some artists because it allows artists reach so many people that they would otherwise never reach. Although the possibilities seem endless, I think it can also take away some of the magic of seeing art in person and being surprised. I personally feel like I am “supposed to” use social media but I do not always feel positive  about the experience. Does this make sense? #oldfashioned”

P: “Speaking to my own personal challenges, I find that the “art world” can be exclusive, can be cliquish and sometimes puts on an elitist face.  Art can be judged worthy because it sells for an price over what it is actually worth. I’m confused by this at times.”

Pt. 2: How do you approach/overcome them?

P: “I connect with young artist just starting out, I branch out by connecting with people who have different interests and different lives than I do, I price my art fairly and I give privately to support the life of art and the act of making.”

Biggest accomplishment to date (personally or professionally)?

P: “My biggest accomplishment is following through with a year-long memorial for my mother after she died in 2016.  In her honor, I gave all of my paintings away for a year.  I did not advertise that I was doing this, I just let people fall into my plan.  During that 12 months, using my mothers birthday as a staring and ending date, I gave away 43 paintings.  It was the single-most important act I have ever done with my art.  One day I would like to make a book about the power of art specifically as it relates to grief and healing.”

Favorite location to paint/what is your studio like? Top 3 studio necessities?

S: “Favorite location to paint is in my studio. 3 necessities are light, windows, and lots of paper!”

P: “My studio is above our garage and it is all mine.  The light is not great but it wholly allows me to embody my heart and soul. It reinforces the thesis by Virginia Wolf in “A Room of Ones Own.”  I have a supportive husband and a space where I can express myself fully without judgement. I must have a pencil, paper and Liquin oil medium.”

A random fact about you:

S: “I love indie movies and yoga!!! can’t live without either.”

P: “I like to hug people.  A lot.  I once hugged an elderly stranger at a gas station who was sad.   I could tell she needed it because she so generously hugged me back.  We didn’t talk at all, we just gave hugs and then pulled back and smiled at each other knowingly.  I will never forget it.  Sometimes though, I’ll go in for a hug and people shriek back in horror.  I understand that it is a vulnerable thing both of give and take and I give people room to say “no thanks.”  But it has been planted in me.  I like it.  A lot.  :)”

Favorite place to vacation? And/or dream trip?

S: “Favorite place to vacation would be camping with my family anywhere. REALLY want to go to Chile and New Zealand.”

P: “My favorite place to vacation is northern Michigan in the summer months.  My husband spent most of his childhood summers there and now our children are having the same experiences he had.  There is so much freedom for the kids to play and experiment with their independence.  My dream trip would be to Finland in winter to see the northern lights.”

Northern Lights in Finland. Click here to see source.

What are you currently reading?

S: “I am a podcast junkie. Because I paint all day, I am ready to move—not sit still after painting. I love all of NPRs podcasts especially Invisibilia and Embedded.”

P: “The three books I read were Dance of the Dissident Daughter (Sue Monk Kid), Their Eyes Were Watching God (Izzelden Abuelaish) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)”

What are you currently listening to?

S: “Spotify’s Newport Folk Fest 2019. I have an annual girls trip to Newport Rhode Island for this music festival in July! It is a magical venue.”

Click here to listen to Newport Folk Fest!

P: “My favorite Podcasts are Invisibilia, On Being and Insights at the Edge; I just fell into the music of singer/songwriter Joshua Radin and have had him on repeat for several weeks.  I also enjoy opening my studio windows on nice days to listen to the birds and the wind.”

Click here to listen to Invisibilia—the NPR podcast both artists suggested!

What would you be doing if you were not an artist?

S: “I fantasize about traveling the world as a naturalist but on the opposite end of the spectrum, I love interior design and fashion. Honestly, I can’t imagine not making art.”

P: “I dream about traveling the world with my kids and husband in a van seeing the country. The problem with this is that I’m not sure they share the same dream.”

One thing you couldn’t live without? 

S: “Sunshine!”

P: “Besides the obvious answers of family and home, I wouldn’t last a day without love.”

If you could switch lives with anyone for a day, who would it be?

S: “Currently, maybe Maggie Rogers. She is a new emerging singer who has great energy and is soaking up every moment of her new career by just being fully present. Her gratitude is palpable.”

P: “I would love to be able to play the Cello so maybe Yo Yo Ma.”

Your all-time favorite artist and/or your favorite emerging artist?

S: “Bo Bartlett may be my favorite or Mary Sims who is no longer with us. Favorite emerging artist may be Rithika Merchant or Ines Longevial.”

Click on the artist names to view their work!

P: “All time favorite Artist is KiKi Smith and my favorite emerging artist would be Toba Khedoori (although I think she falls under established).”

Dream commission?

S: “I would like to do a very large scale 20 foot stack.”

Click here to view more of Stephanie’s stack series!

P: “To make a painting or sculpture that would thrill Kiki Smith.”

What do you want your audience to know about your work?

S: “I put a lot of thought and time into my work. My prep work before I actually start painting is the most time consuming part. I do not want to proclaim myself to be a perfectionist because…yikes! But I am very thoughtful and deliberate in my work. I work slowly and methodically.”

P: “While it can be interpreted as pretty, the intent of my work is for it to be a resource, a map guiding you back to your lovely potential.  It is a statement about the beauty in human experience; connection, getting lost and finding your way back home, over and over again. Nothing gets made that doesn’t touch on this.”

What do you think, makes your work unique?

S: “I like the stacks that i have made for families that I call Stacked Stories or Family Portraits. They have become very special commissions for the families or individuals they are made for.”

P: “My work involves many different mediums (everything from my kids pre-K notes, taxidermy, clothing, pottery, thread, sewing, wood, sculpture, canvas, paper) and is constantly evolving, yet it remains recognizable in authorship.  Over the years, people have commented on the variations in my work saying that it is very clear to them that I made it but they love how unique each piece or series is.”

Name one goal for your career you’d like to achieve in the next 5 years:

S: “I try to keep my goals very personal. I just like to continue evolving and learning. As an artist, I feel pressure to do or achieve certain things that don’t necessarily align with my most authentic self which sounds a little cryptic I guess. Basically, i still have a lot of growing to do! I am really Looking forward to it.”

P: “I would love to have a cataloged solo show, out of state with a positive write-up by a respected art critic.”

Thank you so much for reading! Stay tuned for our next blog post! It’ll feature Stephanie and Pam talking about collaborative art making + pictures from the exhibition opening!

—Written by, Sophie Lane at ANFA Gallery