The work of Ann Wolken makes a person smile. Perhaps a person remembers a child they have long forgotten in themselves. One is tempted to ask, “What is this work really about?”
Underneath a cast of cartoon characters exist several levels of psychic reality. These are expressed in the artist’s writing. Underlying the content of the work is a central dichotomy between a rebellious child and an evolving woman, a student of her own life. In a body of work spanning five decades Wolken explores the journey of being a child, of being a woman, and of being a student of yoga and Zen meditation. The paintings and journal writing can be seen together as teachings.
Wolken’s influences have been diverse, coming from painters of a personal figurative style such as Florine Stettheimer, Alice Neel, and Fairfield Porter, as well as poets such as Anne Sexton, Sylvia Path, and Adrienne Rich, and psychologists such as Carl Jung, Karen Horney, and Robert Johnson. As a young woman, she painted to the songs of Linda Ronstadt and Carly Simon. Now she is painting to Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and others.
Her paternal grandmother, Dina Wolken, who was born in 1880 in the town of Eishyshok, in Lithuania, has been her biggest spiritual influence.
She developed her work growing up in Pittsburgh in a house filled with the work of her mother, Dorothy, a watercolorist trained at Carnegie Tech, now called Carnegie Mellon University. Her mother died at twenty-nine of Hodgkin’s disease when the artist was six.
Her father, the late J.J. Wolken, was a scientist who had artistic aspirations. He lived out these untapped ambitions through his children, insuring that all four become attached to the arts in one form or another. In addition to herself, her brother, Jonathan, is one of the founders and directors of the Pilobolis, a dance company based in Washington, Connecticut. Her sister, Johanna, is a producer at WBEZ radio station in Chicago, Illinois, and her brother, Erik, is a furniture designer in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
When she was a student herself, at Smith College during the late 1960’s, the artist explored the roots of Feminism. She graduated in 1968 with a BA Degree, and in 1971 moved out west to Eugene, Oregon to study at the University of Oregon. After completing her MFA Degree in Painting, she moved to Southern California in 1973.
Wolken was part of the early history of the California Arts Council, receiving seven Artist in Community Grants. She completed a mural at the Downtown Women’s Center in Skid Row that was eighty feet long in 1982. She also worked at the Olive Stone Adult Day Care Center doing a “Stories in Our Lives Project” produced murals of many scenes from Venice while working with kids at The Boys & Girls Club in Venice. Her work is represented in many public and private collections.