Wichita artist Ann Resnick creates powerful work about ‘grief and loss, love and death’

February 26, 2022 3:33 am

“Chapter & Verse,” an exhibition of works by Wichita artist Ann Resnick, is on view at the Ulrich Museum of Art through May 7. Pictured from left are: “Jeannetic Mutation,” “Pessimist’s Index,” “Biography II,” “We’re So Sorry” and “Jeannesplice.” (Dimitrius Skliris)

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Wichita-based artist Ann Resnick has read obituaries for as long as she can remember. Their “odd language” fascinated her, and eventually she began incorporating the notices into her work.

“I want to find a way to talk about grief and loss, love and death,” she says. “Using obituary pages seemed quite direct.”

Grief and loss, love and death are the loose themes of “Chapter & Verse,” a solo exhibition of Resnick’s work at Wichita State’s Ulrich Museum of Art, on view through May 7.  The show includes 16 major works from the past 30 years of the prolific artist’s career, and it should solidify Resnick’s reputation as a smart, methodical observer of the human condition. 

In the words of curator Ksenya Gurshtein, “She is a data analyst of sorrow.”

Resnick created “Our Town” over the span of two years, first coloring obituary pages from the Wichita Eagle, then using a tool to burn intricate patterns into the delicate newsprint. (Dimitrius Skliris)

Resnick’s work with obituary pages is represented by “Our Town.” She created the 36-foot-long piece over the span of two years, first by coloring obituary pages from the Wichita Eagle, then laboriously burning them into a striking, weblike pattern. The result, Gurshtein writes in the exhibition text, evokes “both foliage and the shifting patterns of light one sees when watching shadows cast by plants.”

“The thing about newspapers is that’s where the content is for the work I want to do,” Resnick says.

She still subscribes to the paper for the same reason she buys 200 stamps at a time at the post office.

“I’m just trying to prop up old institutions,” she says. “I think they’re the ties that bind, in a way.”

Across the gallery is another piece that uses newsprint as a medium. “Pessimist’s Index” consists of  67 newspaper front pages representing several weeks in 2015. Resnick and a roster of friends color-coded the pages according to their relative pessimistic content. She made the piece as a response to an installation by Christine Wong Yap at Harvester Arts.

“Her work was about optimism, and I thought, ‘That’s not me. I’m going to take the opposite tack,’ ” Resnick says.

In contrast to the intricate, orderly nature of “Our Town” and “Pessimist’s Index,” two simpler works carry a different kind of emotional weight. Both “Dear Ann, Love” and  “We’re So Sorry” extract and enlarge words from handwritten correspondence in large, black-and-white series. Here, as in so much of her work, Resnick draws from her own life to create art that feels expansive rather than specific.

“Dear Ann, Love” (2011), India ink on paper, 108×180 inches. (Dimitrius Skliris)

She created “We’re So Sorry” from sympathy notes received after the 2018 death of her husband and creative partner, artist Kevin Mullins. Most of us have been the audience for a chorus of “sorrys,” though — and the fact of this is impossible to ignore while viewing this piece. 

“Pessimist’s Index,” “Dear Ann, Love” and “We’re So Sorry” hint at Resnick’s community and the collaborative nature of some of her work. The process of creating the exhibition was another form of collaboration. It began early in the pandemic, after Resnick spoke with Gurshtein, the curator, in preparation for a public conversation.

“That’s when I realized there was so much more there than I knew about” Resnick’s work, given how comparatively little of it had been shown in Wichita, Gurshtein says. “I felt this work from all these different stages of her career should be shown in dialogue together.” 

In collaboration with Gurshtein, Resnick spent months reviewing decades of work accumulated in her studio near downtown Wichita, unrolling and unpacking pieces that hadn’t been seen for years. 

“It was mind-blowing in so many ways,” Resnick says. “The project asked me to go through 40 years of work.” The process of looking back at her life this way was “equal parts pain and pleasure.”

Both the artist and curator felt strongly about including older print series, created before her 1995 move from upstate New York to Wichita. Both “Jeannesplice” and “Jeannetic Mutation” — references to Resnick’s mother, Jeanne — use partial representations of the Resnick siblings’ faces to explore the random and sometimes confusing nature of genetic ties. In these pieces, Gurshtein sees a through line to Resnick’s recent serialized, meticulous work.

“Pessimist’s Index” (2015), mixed media on newspaper, 108×252 inches. (Dimitrius Skliris)

The curator  wanted  the exhibition to reflect the different phases of Resnick’s career and the wide variety of media she has used. However, “Chapter & Verse” is not exactly a retrospective so much as a focused look at some of the artist’s recurring themes — Gurshtein notes that they could have selected different works to evoke a different tone entirely. 

This choice means that “Chapter & Verse” is a bit like an unassembled puzzle: Each of the works corresponds to others. It may take a certain investment of time on the part of the viewer to recognize these connections, but they are everywhere. 

A glass case containing the artist’s notebooks and project sketches provides some context for both Resnick’s style of practice and the works included in “Chapter & Verse.” An online gallery that accompanies the exhibition includes additional images that underline Resnick’s reflective and time-consuming processes.  

“I feel like it’s a really core thing that defines her as an artist, and it’s not that common in artistic practices — this intense commitment to the investment of time,” Gurshtein said. “Clearly, spending time is a huge part of the point of creating the work.”

The unusual  burning technique, used to create  four of the pieces in “Chapter & Verse,” is itself a concession to time’s inexorable forward motion. A printmaker by training, Resnick discovered that paper burning conveys a similar quality of line as a woodcut, without the same level of physical exertion required to carve wood blocks. That’s a distinct advantage for an artist with carpal tunnel and a history of broken wrists.  

Still, she can only work for about three hours at a time, she says: “Everything takes its toll, even when you think it won’t.”

“Our Town” (2014-16), newsprint, colored pencil, spray enamel, burned paper, 22×432 inches. (Dimitrius Skliris)

The Ulrich Museum of Art is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday–Saturday. Admission is free. 

Two smaller Wichita galleries are also exhibiting Ann Resnick’s work this spring:

“Squeeze Pinch Smoke: Prints & Drawings 1986-1992” is on view at the Fisch Haus’ BildLab gallery by appointment through April 17. Admission is free.

“So Long Farewell” will open March 3 in Newman University’s Steckline Gallery in the DeMattias Fine Arts Center. Resnick will deliver an artist talk at 12 p.m. March 3 in conjunction with Newman’s annual Art and Lit Fest. The gallery will host a First Friday reception from 5 to 8 p.m. March 4, and the exhibition will be on view from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and by appointment through March 25. Admission is free.

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Emily Christensen
Emily Christensen

Emily Christensen is a journalist based in Wichita who writes about arts and culture, in addition to running a freelance writing and editing business. Emily is the co-creator, writer and host for the award-winning podcast "Feminist Foremothers," a collaboration with the cinema organization mama.film. She is the recipient of a Wichita Arts Council Award and a 2020 fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. Follow her on Twitter @SchmemilyEmily.