“You can feel it with your eyes,” said Annie Hooker while rifling through historical photos, stopping occasionally to hand one to me. “I just can’t stop looking at it.”
Faced with countless historic scenes printed on browning photographs, our eyes moved from images of people slouched and smiling on the hoods of Model T cars to photos of determined-looking athletes proudly holding wooden skis. The pictures smelled richly of mildew and all came from the pre-1940s, preserving a long-gone era of old Tahoe and California.
Truckee-based artist Annie Hooker specializes in transfer prints that she creates from old photos. She and her husband, artist Andrew Bolam, own the Bolam Gallery and they both live and work out of their downtown Truckee building. The gallery walls are lined with art — Hooker’s bold compositions of people and buildings standing out amongst Bolam’s painterly, rustic landscapes.
Hooker searches for historical images in places like thrift stores, antique stores, and even the attics of abandoned houses. She refers to the photos she finds as her “mother yeast” because they provide her constant inspiration and subjects for her work. She uses a technique called acrylic gel transfer printing to transfer her historic images onto 3-inch thick pine and masonite boxes.
“I feel like I have a relationship with the photo and I can’t leave it alone until I make something out of it,” she said. “I add paint, glazes, or whatever I want on top of the print so it has both a photographic nature as well as hand-painted elements.”
The authenticity of the images that Hooker finds often transports her back to the days when everything was handmade and meant to last a lifetime. She makes every piece by hand, even down to the first step of constructing the wood panels.
“I don’t know when they were taken or who any of these people are,” Hooker said, “[but] I can’t stop looking at them. I look at the composition; I wonder who the people were and where they were. I really just don’t know. But that’s why I love them.”
When the Bay Area-raised artist visited Truckee to ski as a kid she became fascinated by its history. Her early memories of Tahoe often include smells of gasoline and pine trees, which are represented in her work by relics like the Flying A gas station, the fading brick REX Hotel sign, and the Sierra Tavern.
After moving to Truckee from the Bay in 2011, Hooker switched from painting to printmaking.
“I remembered a printmaking technique I had learned in my first year at [California College of the Arts] and decided to try it out,” she said. “All of a sudden I had taught myself a new way to express certain images that didn’t work as well in paint. It totally opened up my world of art-making when I let go of the attachment of being only a painter.”
Three years later Hooker is still going strong with her transfer print art. Her latest work features a combination of print and paint. Titled Persistent San Francisco, the series of nine prints tells a story that is quite personal to Hooker, who has a lifelong relationship with the cityscape images in the collection.
“Most of the images predate me, but they are still familiar visually and encompass the essence of the city,” said Hooker. “That’s why I called the suite Persistent San Francisco, because of course things are always changing and evolving, but the structure and spirit remain.”
Hooker’s work is showing in Truckee in the Bolam Gallery and Cottonwood Restaurant, and in the Bolam Gallery’s Incline Village location. Prices range from $175 to $4,000. Info: thebolamgallery.com/annie-hooker