Art:Work #1: Anne Canfield and Hiro Sakaguchi with Zoë Cohen

This is the first in a new series of artist interviews, coordinated by Zoë Cohen, that will explore the financial realities of a career in the visual arts in Philadelphia. More on this project here.

On an icy day in January, I sat down with Anne Canfield and Hiro Sakaguchi in the dining room of their three-story twin in Lansdowne, just outside of West Philadelphia. Hiro and Anne are both painters who have been working in Philadelphia since the late ‘90’s.

Anne Canfield and Hiro Sakaguchi in Hiro’s studio. Photograph by Zoë Cohen
Anne Canfield and Hiro Sakaguchi in Hiro’s studio.
Photograph by Zoë Cohen

Zoë Cohen: Let’s start with your house and studios. Before you bought this house in 2013, you were living in Southwest Philly.

Anne Canfield:Yeah, I bought the house in the southwest before we met. I had had a great live/work space in West Philadelphia that was affordable, but my landlord passed away and the family sold the building.  It was to be rehabbed and the rent was to be doubled. I was tired of being forced out of spaces, so that’s when I decided to buy. It was great for me to have my studio in my house, and it was big enough for both living and working space for me. Hiro and I met shortly after I bought that house.

Hiro Sakaguchi – I moved in, and I needed a bigger workspace than what we had in that house. So I rented out a studio in Chinatown.

AC – But soon enough, it was hard for me to work in the house. With two people living there it felt like too much of a home. I also started working in his studio space in Chinatown, and then another space opened up in the building and I moved in there.

HS – It was working out pretty good, but I was tired and I was never home. I would just come home to sleep.

AC – It was exhausting, we really didn’t have a home life.

HS – So we started considering buying something larger that could accommodate live and work space for both of us.

ZC – I’m actually about to move my studio out of my house. I have children, so my home has another kind of work associated with it that pulls me from my studio. Do you ever find that having your studio in your home makes it harder to focus on your work?

HS – I think it’s working pretty good, when I feel like I need to go in the studio, I can be right there. And we have our non-studio space here as well.

AC – We set up the house purposely. Hiro’s studio is in what would usually be the living room. The second floor is entirely studio and studio storage space, and the third floor is where we sleep. We chose to have the house be really based around working.

ZC  – Is there anything you find you challenging about being in a partnership with another artist?

AC – I think we both really understand each other when we are dealing with anxiety around our work. When one of us is having a hard time with the work, your heart breaks for the other person. But it’s hard when we’re both working on a deadline, I sometimes feel like I’m being so self-centered. But overall I think it’s good, we do work well as a team.  I don’t think we could have a child though. We’ve grappled with that and have decided not to.

ZC –  That’s a major decision, and I do feel like sometimes people minimize it, thinking it won’t be that hard to keep making work. But it is very hard, and I really respect when artists can say definitively, “I’m not willing to sacrifice the work I want to make to do that.”

AC – Maybe if we were younger we would feel differently, if we had started this together when we were younger.

ZC – Let’s talk about your shows and your gallery representation.

HS – We both show at Seraphin Gallery. I started showing with them in 2007. I got connected with them when I asked a friend who I knew from PAFA if he thought I could send a CD to the gallery, and he offered to mention me to them. A few months later they set up a studio visit with me. I have had multiple shows with them since then and curated a couple there along the way as well.

AC – Hiro included me into a group show at Seraphin [My Dog Speaks, 2009.]  They eventually offered me a small solo show in the back in 2010-11, and then my recent solo show that opened in December 2014.

HS – I also had a relationship with Mizuma Gallery in Tokyo.  I was in a group show there a few times, and in 2008 we went to Japan and we met the gallerist. He never took me as an artist, but he brought a few of my works to Pulse Miami that year. So I went to Miami, and was going around to see work.  There I met the gallerist from Hübner & Hübner Gallery in Frankfurt, Germany. We exchanged cards and he got in touch. So I show with him once in a while too. I’ve had two solo shows there.

AC – And, in a way, that connection brought Hiro to Nancy Margolis Gallery in New York. You were showing with Hübner & Hübner at a small fair in New York when we went to a friend’s opening at NMG.  Hiro’s concurrent show came up in conversation and Margolis checked out his work.  He was included in a group show there over the summer.

HS – And then we were recently invited to do a two-person show at Nancy Margolis gallery together this April.  It will be our first two-person show together.  So these connections happen, from friend to friend, gallery to gallery.

AC – Yeah, it’s about talking to people and building relationships.

ZC – How much of your income comes from sales of your work?

AC –  We make probably about 20% of our income from sales of our work. 

Anne Canfield THE BLUE BIRD graphite and oil on panel 12 x 12 inches 2014 private collection
Anne Canfield
graphite and oil on panel
12 x 12 inches
private collection

ZC – You were both fellows with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists before you met. How do you feel that program helped your career or your work?

AC – The program was really good for me. It was dynamic, and I had the chance to meet and work alongside many talented artists.

HS – I met lots of good artists from there. They have a good support system. They offer a travel grant for alumni, so I went to Europe for the first time with that grant. They always had multiple shows going on for the fellows.

AC – It was definitely an awakening as far as deadlines, they were putting fellows’ work in a lot of shows. It was tiring, but it was good because that’s how it can be, and it forced me to work harder.

ZC –  So tell me about your jobs. Hiro, I first met you at the Philadelphia Museum of Art more than 10 years ago, when I was working in the education department. Are you still there?

HS – I’m still working at the museum as an installer. Because I’ve been there for a while, I have better benefits, and I can take vacation time to work in the studio.  I am also always getting inspired by the other artists I work with, and the art that I see and work with in the museum. It’s very stable, and it makes our life stable. I’m working 35 hours a week there.  I also teach in Continuing Education at PAFA and have been doing that on and off for years.  I’ve mentored students at UArts and have taught at Fleisher Art Memorial as well.

Hiro Sakaguchi GRAVITATIONAL PULL: LAND (after Casper David Friedrich) acrylic on canvas 72 x 96 inches 2014 courtesy of Seraphin Gallery
Hiro Sakaguchi
GRAVITATIONAL PULL: LAND (after Casper David Friedrich)
acrylic on canvas
72 x 96 inches
courtesy of Seraphin Gallery

ZC – Do you stay up late to work in the studio?

HS – Usually in the evening I work about 3 – 4 hours, I try to end around 11pm. Weekends I can do a lot more.

AC – Right now we really don’t have a social life, we have to say no to a lot of stuff. Because we just don’t have time.

ZC – I’m guessing you both have health insurance from the PMA through Hiro’s job?

AC-  Yes, we are both covered through Hiro’s job.  We pay into it, but it is affordable.

ZC – And are you still at Buddakan, Anne?

AC – Yes, I’ve been working as a server there for over 10 years too. I’m scheduled for four nights a week, but with these shows I’ve been taking nights off. I went into a little debt to make the work for my recent show at Seraphin, and the money that I’m making from selling the work in the show is being used in part to pay it back. Ideally it won’t have to be that way forever, but right now I have to take the chance and the financial risk to get my work made and out there.

ZC – It is an interesting dilemma. I’ve often prioritized not spending beyond my means to make my work, but recently I’ve decided that I may have to go into some debt in order to get the next opportunity that I want for my work.

AC – It’s like any business, sometimes you have to take a gamble. It has worked out well this time. Hiro helped me frame the work for the Seraphin show which helped me keep costs down for that show.

HS – We did choose jobs to work with our lifestyle…

AC – For you the choice of staying at the museum was about having a stable position.

HS – I am also always getting inspired by the other artists I work with, and the art that I see and work with in the museum.

ZC – This is something I tell my students, that your day job should support your work in some way. Anne, do you feel that your job serves you as an artist?

AC – It’s extremely flexible which I love.  I’m much better with people because of my job. It’s so easy for me to just cut off from being social, especially when I’m in the studio so much, so it gets me out.

ZC – Are you able to have savings? Do you feel financially secure?

AC-  We both have retirement funds, Hiro contributes to his fund through work and I have my own IRA that I contribute to monthly.  Our savings goes up and down depending on our shows and our travel.  We hope to feel more secure in the future, to be honest.

ZC – Is there anything you wish you knew about or thought to do earlier in your career? Anything you’d do differently if you could?

HS- I feel like I’ve done my best at any given point in my career.  I don’t think would change anything in particular. 

AC-  I would have pushed to get my work out there more in my twenties, after college.  I think it is easy to be overwhelmed with life and art-making at first.  I would have encouraged myself to have had more confidence.