The Fine Arts professor talks about landscape painting, artistic careers, and the Kalahari Desert.What is your favorite course to teach?
Probably the professional practice class. Every student in that class has his own studio and develops a body of work, taking one idea and continuing it through the semester. They immerse themselves even beyond the assignment.
Why do you enjoy it so much?
It’s rewarding because students get so much out of it. This class has an entrepreneurial aspect. The students grow a lot through independent studio practice, visiting professional artists in New York, writing an artist’s statement, and thinking about different career paths they might take. It’s fun having students working all different areas because I have experience in all of them: graphic design, painting, sculpture, mixed media.
What is your artistic background?
I went to the Kansas City Art Institute and I started out in ceramics, studying with Ken Ferguson, who was a very well-known ceramic artist. I switched to painting and went to Boston University for an MFA, where I studied with John Walker and Alfred Leslie. I’ve worked in magazine layout in New York, and I ran a sign company in Botswana. Today I work across media doing painting, photography, print making, ceramics, and book arts.
Which media would you work in if you had a day on your own to make art?
I’d go out and paint the landscape. I’d go back to the coast of Maine and paint the rocks and the receding tide.
What artists do you admire most?
I love Turner and Corot for their landscapes. And I love the voraciousness of Anselm Kiefer who uses paint, lead, straw, clay, and transferred photos to do landscapes with historical themes of war and holocaust. It’s very rich.
Which artist would you love to invite to visit your class?
Michelangelo. Or DaVinci. Da Vinci would be wonderful in a liberal arts setting because of his interest in anatomy and science and drawing with creativity and inventiveness. I went to an art school, but I think a liberal arts college is the best education for a young adult.
Did you always want to teach art?
I didn’t know whether I wanted to write films, study law, or be an artist. Even when I started graduate school, I was on the fence. I took a year off and went to Africa and Europe and stayed in Botswana because a friend offered me a seven-sided hut to live in. I learned Setswana and used my last $400 to start a sign company. I also started teaching there. That changed my life.
You went back to Botswana on a Fulbright. What is it about that country that draws you back?
My world view changed while I was there. I lived in a suburb in the Midwest and had little cats for pets. There, it’s man versus nature.
I had a scrape with a lion—it’s a long, funny, scary story. I’ve been back four or five times and I’m going there this summer with a faculty research grant. There’s something about being in the middle of the Kalahari; we live in a frenetic age, and it’s so still.
What did you do on your Fulbright?
I taught people simple skills that they could use to make a living; how to make wildlife paintings that they could sell. That’s why I’m such a fan of service-learning. We have something to impart to the community and we can empower underrepresented groups.
What kind of service-learning projects do fine arts students do?
They are mostly in the graphic arts area. Instead of making up companies and creating symbols and layouts for them, now we offer our skills to nonprofits that don’t have the funds for professional artwork to communicate about who they are.
What are you proudest of as a teacher?
The students that get accepted into excellent graduate programs—and getting large scholarships. And those who get a job when they graduate. The fact that our department places people on good paths beyond college is something I’m very happy about. One of my own initiatives that I’m proud of is the five-critique program. Seniors are critiqued five times during the year by volunteer faculty from various departments, and outside artists and college staff. Students want to rise to the occasion. It raises the bar, and it creates a sense of community.
If you won the lottery or inherited a million dollars, what would you give Saint Anselm College?
A new art building. We need it in a desperate way. And I’d put money into scholarships for the arts.
Kimberly Kersey Asbury
Associate Professor, Department of Fine Arts
M.F.A. in Painting, Boston University, School for the Arts