"I pay attention to the world around me. I start looking outside of myself and when I find a connection I am then driven to make it.” For Annette Russo art is not a hobby but a way of life. Everything about Annette exemplifies this idea from her childhood, to her current career, to the way she views the world, and to how she lives her life.
As a child Annette was always making something. Both of her parents were “makers” so she had the opportunity to always be inspired. “People say you are born into what you become and I believe there is truth in that.” Annette grew up on a farm in Assumption and did not always think she was going to become an artist. In fact, she had initially planned to become a veterinarian and in 1976, she chose biology as her major at Millikin University. She had always done painting, drawing and ceramics for pleasure, but she never considered pursuing art seriously until Milllikin University professor, Marvin Klaven, convinced her otherwise. He took time to talk to her about what made her happy and the direction she wanted to take in her life. Annette switched her major to art her sophomore year and never looked back. Annette then decided to get her BFA at Millikin University in 1980 and then went on to get her Masters in Art Therapy in 1984 at George Washington University (which is the best school in the nation for art therapy.) At George Washington University Annette had the opportunity to study with and learn from people like Edith Kramer who were the actual founders of art therapy.
Annette now teaches art at Millikin University. She teaches not only general art courses but also classes in art therapy where people who are not always able to communicate well verbally can find an outlet of communication through art. "When you start to use the creative aspect of the brain to understand yourself, you are going to understand a different part of yourself, making connections that you might typically avoid.” Annette said. Millikin named Annette Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 1998. In addition to her role as an educator, Annette also continues to create, show and sell work by entering shows, and cosigning her work at the Blue Connection and a gallery in St. Louis. Annette feels blessed to be able to do something she loves. “Educating, creating artwork, and working with people is a gift.”
The way Annette lives her life is in many ways how she works through her art. For example she believes the philosophies of art and yoga are side by side. They stand for being in the now, to paying attention to the things around you and to then let those things guide you. When creating art Annette tries to listen to the world around her, she constantly tries to stay in touch with nature, and to then let her materials guide her through her work. While creating her art she goes through a process of connecting forms and textures using materials such as clay, paint, glazes, salt fire, and junk. She tries to maintain a connection with nature while also investing her energy into her artwork. She remains spontaneous, intuitive, and allows her work to just flow without ever knowing exactly how it is going to come out. “I like the aspect of chance; it is a wonderful place to be.”
When making an object Annette tries to make it like it has never been done before. Her use of strong, simple lines, earthy colors, rich textures and sometimes whimsical themes, reflects Annette’s’ personality while most often featuring subjects from the natural world she loves. Annette enjoys and finds inspirations from primitive concepts, ancient ideas and materials, history, animals, and natural and organic shapes. When creating a piece of artwork Annette’s goal is to let her work speak to her, to listen to it, to let it guide her and for it to then speak to someone else. “When I picture my art I see it somewhere down the road in an antique store as a reliquary for my thoughts and humor, but to not only be a reflection of me but to tell a story of my time period and of our history.” When creating and selling art Annette feels a connection to those who take her work home with them. “My art is like a family member you don’t have to take care of. When people purchase my art I think of them as now a part of my family.”
Annette has received honors and recognition as a teacher and an artist in the Decatur community. But despite her apparent talent her overall outlook on life and the world around her is truly what defines who she is and is in many cases what allows Annette to be such a great artist that people are inevitably drawn to.