April 5, 2023
By Judith Fuller
AUBURN, Alabama – Annie Klaas was a young girl living in Dakar, Senegal when she started her journey as an artist. She recalls first feeling a sense of excitement from art after bringing home a project in kindergarten when some volunteers from the United States had come to share games and skits with the children at her school.
The theme was Smokey the Bear and they held a drawing contest where each child got the same picture to color. When Annie brought her project home from school, her dad encouraged her to try a different approach.
“Instead of coloring in the picture, I glued on pieces of grass for the grass spots, dirt for Smokey’s fur, and different things like that. I won the competition, which surprised and excited me,” said Klaas. “I learned that I could challenge the boundaries of an ordinary assignment, turning simple elements into pictures that other people would enjoy.”
Klaas began growing as an artist while working toward her bachelor of fine arts degree at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington. During this time, she began developing her style by drawing and then erasing some, then repeating the process until the figure had been sufficiently rendered, but the “faint clouds of erased charcoal,” which she calls “ghosts,” were still left on the page.
“I learned to make those leftover ‘ghosts’ a part of the drawing of the figure, giving the overall drawing a more developed look. One professor commented that process gave my drawings a ‘muchness.’”
During her first year the Harrison College of Pharmacy, Klaas says she only painted on breaks or sketched during the week because she felt like she did not have the time to paint as well as keep up with her studies. However, she explains how this year she has realized that painting helps her cope with stress and can act as a mental break for her pharmacy studies.
“I’ve found that it is helpful to have something apart from school that I can excel in because it helps balance my perspective on my academic performance,” said Klaas. “Even though it takes time out of my busy schedule, creating artwork gives me energy to study well.”
At first glance, pharmacy and art may seem like very different career paths, pharmacy seeming more technical and art more creative. However, Klaas holds the view that successful artists and pharmacists both need to incorporate creativity and technical skill in their professions.
Take, for example, Rene Magritte's "The Treachery of Images." The image features a pipe with the text “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” translated to “This is not a pipe,” painted below. This famous surrealist painting creates a paradox out of the conventional notion that objects are what they represent. It reveals the secret reason why artists have spent centuries developing technical mastery of their various mediums: to make us forget that a two-dimensional canvas and several layers of pigment exist between our imaginations and what we are seeing.
In art, technical mastery usually precedes the more imaginative or fantastical works that are easily popularized in our contemporary culture. Everybody knows Pablo Picasso by his later work as a modernist abstract artist, but his student work is academically classical and shows an impressive technical mastery.
“Just as art requires technical mastery, pharmacy needs creativity to keep up with the evolving industry. A pharmacist uses creativity to investigate healthcare options with patients,” said Klaas.
Pharmacists must be open to understanding patient concerns and take many factors into account with their own research and understanding before offering a solution. Creative thinking also helps pharmacists to research and find new treatments or improve on old ones.
Klaas grew up in the capital city of Senegal and found certain things beautiful that others did not - the texture and patterns of fungus on a concrete building or the iridescent colors that glinted off oil in sewage puddles. She made paintings that aimed to represent those things in a way that would show others their beauty as she saw it. This led her to experiment with using mixed media while continuing to draw and paint.
“When I was accepted into Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, one of my classmates in my printmaking class surprised me by embroidering on her prints. Inspired by her, I started experimenting with using sewing to connect different mediums,” said Klaas. “I sewed paper sinks to fit into my friends’ sinks so that they could record the sediment that went through them every day. For my BFA show I embroidered poetry into sheets of hanging paper to create a tactile, ethereal experience and complimented them with paintings on found wood.”
A common theme in Klaas’ paintings has always been the sky. Three years after she completed her degree, she returned to Senegal and began collecting local textiles that she began to sew into her drawings.
Klaas explains that she wanted to integrate the extravagant patterns in the cloth she had grown up seeing people wear in her work, but was apprehensive about using Senegalese references since she is technically not a native.
“I’ve started using an applique technique to put panels of cloth into parts of the sky and am continuing to explore that idea, said Klaas. “One of those paintings was just featured in an exhibition in St. Louis at Intersect Arts Center, which I’m super excited about.”
Klaas eventually decided to return to the United States to complete the science and math prerequisite in preparation for pharmacy school. At first, she did not paint much, but over the summer after her P1 year, her aunt invited her to bring her paintings to an art market in Orange Beach.
“I was soon invited to other shows and found myself swinging back into a busy and productive painting schedule. Old friends and teachers reached out and bought or commissioned dozens of paintings,” said Klaas. “Now, I am preparing for an exhibition at the Mobile Arts Council. The paintings will be large skyscapes with light rays from window blinds sewn across them.”
To see Klaas’ work and keep up with her exhibitions, please visit her website at www.annieoklaas.com.
Auburn University’s Harrison College of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 25 percent of all pharmacy programs in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the College offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. The College's commitment to world-class scholarship and interdisciplinary research speaks to Auburn's overarching Carnegie R1 designation that places Auburn among the top 100 doctoral research universities in the nation. For more information about the College, please call 334.844.8348 or visit http://pharmacy.auburn.edu.