People who have lived in Missoula long enough to recall the emergence of Nirvana and Soundgarden probably remember Anneke Ayers as one of the first female snowboarders on Snowbowl's slopes.
"I want to say I was maybe the second or third girl up at Snowbowl to be on a snowboard," says Ayers. "I realized the other day that I've been snowboarding for about 23 years and, it's funny, it's such a part of everyday life now but it wasn't that way then. That small group of snowboarders was really tight."
Back in those days snowboarding was just another aspect to the alternative culture of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which included grunge music and fashion, skateboarding, tattoos and graffiti. At the time, Ayers wasn't heavy into making art, but she was taken by the do-it-yourself aesthetic of it, and that led her to draw postcards, doodle designs and cartoons, and draw up one-off T-shirt designs for her friends.
"I grew up around art, but I didn't do art for a really long time," she says. "I was busy snowboarding and traveling all over but I was always doodling. Art was always there, but it was never in the foreground, and so, comparatively speaking, I haven't done a lot of art. What I did do, I never copied and I almost always gave it away."
Over the years, things have changed for Ayers. For one thing, she has replaced her skateboard and snowboard magazines with underground art and culture magazines—like Juxtapoz–that feature the kind of street, psychedelic and lowbrow art of the underground commix movement reminiscent of her former rebellious snowboarding days.
"It's like the documentary Beautiful Losers, which is about a group of artists who were into the grungy skateboard lifestyle," she says. "I'm definitely influenced by that art."
Ayers, now 34, has also started making art more deliberately, and earning a spot in local exhibits. She's been chosen on a couple of occasions as an artist for the Montana Skatepark Association's annual On Deck skateboard auction, featuring art done on skateboard decks. She exhibited some of her multimedia work in a 2008 joint art show at Betty's Divine for First Friday. Last year, she graduated from the University of Montana's media arts program and started really delving into multimedia creations that utilize digital collage finished with ink and watercolor—art pieces she'll be featuring in her first solo art show opening this week at Butterfly Herbs.
"I've been self-conscious about my art so I'd always give it away like it's not a big deal," says Ayers. "But I've been doing a lot more of it and so this is kind of a big deal for me to put on a solo show."
Ayers' work focuses on texture. She built a personal library of different surfaces on her computer—pictures of old paint, wallpaper, metals and textiles—that she uses to layer her art. In one drawing, a comic-styled girl leans back on a bed wearing underwear created from one of the photos. Some of the textures she pulls from online and others she collected from photos she took herself.
"I can't tell you how many brick walls or weird stains I've photographed," says Ayers. "I have a nice camera but sometimes even my cell phone works. As embarrassing as it is, I'll be sitting in a bathroom and see a stain on the ceiling, and I'll be like 'click'. Once you start, you see it in everything like, 'Oh that paint is cracking in a cool way.' It's amazing what you can find."
One of Ayers' favorite textures was one she created in the old-fashioned, DIY fashion. Experimenting with one of the UM copy machines one day, she cranked the toner level to its max and then made a copy without putting anything onto the glass.
"I did a copy of the glass, of how dirty it was with all the scratches and everything," she says. "It turned out to be one of the coolest, grungiest textures I got just by playing with the darkness of the toner. It's one of those great textures that I actually pull from quite often."
Ayers' solo show will be the first time she's really combined the skills she learned in the media arts program with the drawing and painting she's flirted with over the years. Using Photoshop to layer her textures and drawings allows for easy readjusting.
"The cool thing about digital media, I have to admit, is I may not like something and all I have to do is click a button," she says. "I can turn it off and on, I can move it to the left or move it to the right. But it can also make you feel really indecisive."
After she begins adding watercolor, paint and ink, however, the whole process becomes much more of a commitment.
"There was one where I was kind of overworking it with ink and paint," she says. "I knew that at some point the paper was going to literally start disintegrating, and so there's a point where I can't do more without destroying it. I have to step back."
Snowboarding isn't really at the forefront of Ayers' life these days, though in some ways she's satiated her sporting needs by taking up skateboarding (after breaking several bones in her early 20s) and becoming a Hellgate Rollergirl as a founding member of the Missoula league. Getting into the art part of underground life is something she's just beginning to explore seriously, which means she gets to learn from the subculture artists that have come before her and think about how to keep it fresh.
"Like, spray paint," she says. "I love using spray paint, but it's a little overused in some pop art. I kind of have to think, 'Do I really want to put a big splatter on it?' And then you have to do what feels right."
Anneke Ayers holds a reception for her mixed media art show at Butterfly Herbs Friday, Nov. 5, at 5 PM. Free.