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Longmont photos turned surreal in art gallery

The Summer Artist Residency at the Firehouse Art Center begins this June with Janelle Anderson’s collaborative project titled “All Together Now.”

The next artist residency at the Firehouse wants to turn community photos into a surrealist collage.

The Summer Artist Residency at the Firehouse Art Center begins this June with Janelle Anderson’s collaborative project titled “All Together Now.”

Anderson’s work relies heavily on the surreal, rooted in dreams, memory and symbolism. She layers photos into a collage structure, then painting them to combine representational imagery and surrealist storytelling. For the artist-in-residence project, Anderson is taking a more collaborative approach.

“I think the idea behind the installation is to show that we’re all connected through our shared experiences, and as hokey as it sounds, we’re all the same, we’re all in this together,” Anderson said.

“I've had this idea for a large installation made up of smaller parts,” Anderson said. “I think I first sketched it out in 2014, and last summer I saw the Firehouse had a residency program and I put down my wildest idea for the biggest, coolest project I could think of doing. I was thinking about how I could bring the idea of community and togetherness to the project. I came up with the idea of having communal photo submissions.”

Anderson is soliciting photos from the public through the end of June, with a variety of themes. She’s hoping for candid photos of families, celebrations, urban and natural landscapes, pets, wildlife, architecture and more.

“I’ve been collecting submissions since April, and I wanted to do it in this sort of tiered way because I thought it would be overwhelming for people to see just a giant list,” Anderson said. “I wanted to make sure I got photos in every category to put it together. I’ve gotten really good submissions, but I definitely need more. The more the better, because it becomes that much more interesting.”

Anderson has a scheduled list with windows for each different photo theme, though she made it clear it was more of a guideline.

“The schedule for submissions isn’t strict at all, I’m expecting anything at any time,” Anderson said. “I have not gotten any photos of current events, I think it’s hard for people. I really wanted to include protest images and recent events that we’ve all been through, because this past year has been crazy, and I don’t have any submissions for that yet.”

Anderson wants to have all community photo submissions in by the end of June. She won’t accept any submissions after June, because she’ll need the full two months to paint. Once Anderson’s settled on final composition, visitors will be able to see the progress she makes as the collage comes together in painting form.

The installation will take up the entirety of the South Gallery, moving from panels on different sized supports directly onto the walls of the gallery to create a continuous piece that will be unique for the residency.

The residency program at the Firehouse opens to applicants living on the Front Range who are willing to incorporate elements of community engagement, Firehouse Curator Brandy Coons said. 

“We look for a project or artist that will benefit from having the studio space, and will engage our community in a unique way ...(Anderson's) plan and process was well thought out, well communicated, and her work is professional and striking in its technique and expressiveness,” Coons said.

According to Coons, one of the stipulations of the residency is that the artist hosts one creative workshop or class at the gallery during their time at the Firehouse. On June 24, Anderson is teaching a workshop on collage making. The initial plan was for the workshop to be held virtually, and registered attendees would pick up a packet of materials so that they could participate from home. As COVID restrictions in Boulder County lift, Anderson and the Firehouse staff are looking at making it an in-person event.

Anderson uses the collage technique to enhance the dream-like qualities of her work through the painting process.

“I typically make a digital collage in Photoshop with different images, and I’ll manipulate them digitally to get an initial sketch before I start painting,” Anderson said. “The painting will change as time goes on, and I’ll add things or change the composition as I see fit. For me the surreal aspect is rooted in dreams and maybe memory. More recently I’ve become more interested in nature and landscape painting, and that’s showing up more in my work.”

For Anderson, the aspect of community input and engagement makes the installation even more exciting. She wants photos from everyone, whether they are professionals or just a capture with their phone.

“I think it's really cool. When you take a photo, you take it to remember something or document an experience because you’re feeling a certain way and you want to look back and remember it,” Anderson said. “By collecting photos from all kinds of people and collaging them together into some surreal scene, it’s kind of like a collage of collective experience. It’s something we can all relate to.”

“I have a huge vision for this and I really think it’s going to come together great judging by the images I’ve received so far, and it looks awesome. I just want to include as much imagery as I can,” Anderson said. “I hope that people see a piece of themselves in this, they feel like they can identify with the imagery they’re seeing on a deep level whether they submitted their own photos, or even if they can identify their photos. I hope that the imagery they’re seeing, the composition and color sparks something in people at a spiritual level, and they see it as a reflection of humanity in general and that they’re included in that.”

Anderson and the Firehouse will take community photo submissions through the end of June. A full list of the subjects, along with a gallery of Anderson’s work can be found on her website. Community submissions can be sent to alltogethernow@firehouse.org.