Artist otherwise known as….Tony Ipser ’16

Ipser’s lithograph of her and her friend as the Virgin Mary and Jesus is one of her favorite works. Courtesy of Meagan Goldman
Ipser’s lithograph of her and her friend as the Virgin Mary and Jesus is one of her favorite works. Courtesy of Meagan Goldman

I first met Tony Ipser ’16 about a year ago in a Winter Study class in which she created beautifully rendered and provocative artwork. She was always willing to talk frankly about her thought process and creativity so I knew our conversation would be interesting.

Drawing, ink, watercolor and lithography are Ipser’s preferred mediums, due to her love of working with line. One of her favorite pieces that she made here at the College is a lithographic portrait of her and a friend. In this portrait, she is the Virgin Mary, holding baby Jesus, who has her friend’s face. Ipser recalled to me the awkward experience of showing the piece to her Catholic grandmother.

“To me, the print is more about humor and Western art’s millions of Madonna images than about religion. It’s a joke about my relationship with Xixi (Edelsbrunner ’16), our sort of transcendently incestuously perfect love. Of course almost everyone who thinks of what they do as art wants to be provocative, but hopefully the point is not just to be inappropriate. I know Dorothea Tanning thought that a lot of contemporary art was just neo-Dadaism on repeat – I don’t think that’s accurate, but I do think that impulse to shock and offend can be misleading,’ Ipser said.

When I asked Ipser if she sees a connection between art and writing, she responded, “Yes, but it’s a sort of mysterious one. I don’t know how much I could say about it … Thinking in images is something that’s common to both, but those are things that you experience really differently.”

The two artistic areas come together for Ipser in comics and graphic novels, which she both reads and creates. She started reading comics when she was young, and prefers web comics. Recently, she read Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, a graphic novel by Chris Ware, and she likes a comic called The Good Wife, a surreal short story.

Ipser has been creating visual art and writing for years, becoming heavily involved in both pursuits in middle school. In eighth grade she started taking art classes at a “really shady art studio” with an instructor she describes as “creepy.” She switched to a better studio in 10th grade and began to focus mainly on life drawing because she enjoyed exploring the human body.

Around the same time that she began attending the aforementioned “shady” art studio, Ipser helped start a creative writing club at her middle school, a feat she repeated in high school. Ipser cites the influence of her high school friends on her writing, as they were all part of the creative writing club, and writing was a part of how they spent time together.

Ipser’s mother is another influence on her art. Having grown up in Singapore, Ipser’s mother studied painting with a Chinese instructor famous for his beautiful tiger paintings. Ipser’s mother passed on to her daughter the traditional Chinese attitude that technical skills must be evident in artwork. This outlook can be both beneficial and burdensome,

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prompting Ipser’s struggle to balance demonstrating technical skills in her work with developing a looser style.

Ipser also finds inspiration in other artwork and artists. She is particularly fascinated by surrealism, saying “I really like … the whole idea of the uncanny – things that are almost real but not quite right.” Her favorite surrealist authors include Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, In terms of visual art, right now she particularly likes the conceptual artist Jenny Holzer.

Ipser has continued pursuing art and writing at the College, where she is undecided between being a studio art major or an English major. She took J. Leland Miller Professor of American History, Literature and Eloquence Jim Shepard’s creative writing class her first year, but also enjoys analytical writing. “I think they’re more connected than people think,” Ipser said of the two branches. Art classes she has taken here include lithography, architectural design and a class called “Creating Bodies,” which is cross-listed between studio art and art history.

Although Ipser cannot see a future for herself in the fine arts, she says might see a future in making comics. Given her talent for both art and writing, it is easy to see that as a possible future for her.