When I visited Anne Austin Pearce’s studio earlier this summer, the hot drought that was strangling the United States was at its apex, and downtown Kansas City was the dull nail from which the continent hung. Pearce’s studio is in the Crossroads District, where the heat had a way of doubling down between bricks and concrete. 

But her second story space is a clean, cool box. Save for one thin wall of blonde faux-wood paneling, every surface is white. The windows are obscured by the exterior facade’s concrete screens, and most of the light comes from the fluorescent tubes above. Not by any involved design—and yet befitting of the work within—Pearce’s studio forces one to momentarily forget the close, tangy airlessness of the city’s heat and noise.

The shift from physical space to the abstract, oceanic environment of Pearce’s paintings is aided by the patient, rolling effervescence with which she speaks. She is embodied and animated by the porous relationship between her life and work. This link between Pearce’s generous, inky paintings and the private stories she shares about their origins encourages one to enter freely into their own associations.

One such entry point was a coral being used to weigh down a long painting on paper (Pearce paints flat, spanning her stark-white paper across multiple tables). She had recently returned from a long holiday on the western coast of Mexico, where she had been gathering these calcareous objects of the sea. Haunted by its overlooked complexity, my eyes fixed on its surface and I offered my own strange secret—that when I'm overwhelmed I often think of the fluid calmness that must always exist in the deepest waters. “Yes," she said, allowing the ensuing silence, "...there."

Pearce is a 2012 Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Award Fellow, her work will be on display at the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute this October.