Shine A Light On ‘Em: New York Based Contemporary Artist Anna Frants

Anna Frants is a contemporary artist currently based and working out of New York City. She graduated with her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts at Boston University

Anna has presented works at the Stone Gallery in Boston and throughout NYC at the Chashama Gallery in Soho, and The Shrine in Harlem, among other venues. Anna previously studied art at Fiorello H LaGuardia High School Of Music and Art in New York City. This year she will be awarded the BFA in Painting from the College of Fine Arts at Boston University. Anna is currently a medical illustration intern for Dr. Linda Bi in the Neurosurgery department of Bringham Women’s Hospital.
How did you start making art? Why do you make art?
I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember; there has never really been a time when I’ve had to ask myself if I should be an artist- it has always seemed like a fact of my existence. Art is the medium through which I attempt to process and understand the complexity of my experiences + emotions. When I’m painting, I feel I can let all my guard down and just exist in each present moment- deeply immersed in the flow state without any concern of past experiences or future expectations. My greatest hope as an artist is that life is revealed to me through my practice. I know this will not come all at once; it has
seemed to present itself in small increments as spontaneous moments of magic in each painting. These moments are what pull me back in each time; they drive my commitment to my practice and help me find meaning in my life.
What does the experience of painting feel like?
Painting is the closest I get to pure meditation- it feels like an alternate dimension, a captivating sensation of bliss. It requires a state of extreme focus and complete presence. I paint to strengthen my ability to consciously return back to presence and push
back against being stuck in the chaos of my mind. Painting requires me to surrender to whatever emotion I’m experiencing in each moment and to translate into moments of light, darkness, color, contrast, line, and texture. While the best of a painting session is pure bliss & peace, it is equally accompanied by intense frustration and perfectionism. It is a highly emotional experience that never quite leaves me satisfied- and I’m not sure that it’s supposed to. At best, I will feel content with the fact that I gave it my all and got through the hardest part of the process- getting started and building momentum. The feeling of finishing a piece always leaves me looking forward to the next and striving to do better. The fact of creating something that has never existed before is wildly powerful; the privilege of creation is quite divine in itself. I often remember a quote by Picasso who said, “There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.” I work each day to get closer to being a painter who transforms a yellow spot into the sun- a painter who seeks to express the inexpressible. Edward Hopper simplified this by saying, “If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” I paint to make myself and my viewers feel things that cannot be expressed with words; I paint to get closer to expressing that which can only be felt.

What is the content of your work about?
The content that reveals itself in my paintings is energy in its simplest form; it is the bridge between the emotions I feel, the chaos of my mind, and my soul- to which I crave a greater connection. Each painting I make is a mirror of my feelings. My paintings depict feelings and memories that may be familiar but expressed in quite unfamiliar ways. Creating art is a form of storytelling; a painting inherently represents the time taken by the painter to create it. Even if the content is not overtly narrative, all art serves as a stamp of time. I seek to better understand the individual and collective consciousness in this form of visual storytelling. My paintings are about the human experience and our desire for meaning. We crave understanding as to who we are inside, what our purpose is, where we are supposed to be, and why there exists an insurmountable amount of pain in the world. The figures and forms in my paintings crave meaning just as much as I do. I paint them to express pains that are both familiar and unfamiliar to me. Each form I paint has something to teach me; they are each like angels whispering to me. They enable me to express feelings I can’t quite verbalize with words.

Can you tell us about some of the key sources of inspiration that shape your art?
Being born and raised in NYC, empathy is deeply embedded in the content of my work as well as the intentions behind why I make it. New York is a city of pain and struggle as well as one so dense with love, encouragement, passion, and drive. It is not a place of comfort, and that is part of the appeal. People are so tightly packed together at all times that there is an inherent closeness, intimacy, and pressure in the city. New York instilled an emphasis of the figure and interpersonal relationships in my art, as well as imbuing me with the importance of infusing such figures with as much energy as possible. One of my favorite parts of living in the city growing up was my daily subway ride to and from school. The subway is a place of kindness, serenity, humor, anger, chaos, and confusion. Every duality and archetype you can think of can be found in most subway rides you observe. I truly never knew what chaos, excitement, or fear my train ride would bring each day. This has always been a strong influence on my work; the subway is a conglomeration of people, stories, experiences, and emotions contained in one tight space. There are often many disembodied figures in my paintings which parallel the fusion of bodies, people, and feelings one experiences on the subway & in the city.

What role has education played in your art?
I frequently push myself to ‘forget’ the rules of painting I’ve been taught and follow my instincts instead. I think of my years of art education as elements that comprise my toolbox of skills in different mediums which I can employ at any moment in my
practice. I work to refine many technical skills so that my brain doesn’t need to be ‘on’ for the majority of the time I’m in the zone painting. This applies to my knowledge of art history as well- I am constantly sourcing elements of art history in my paintings. Since my
painting content is reflective of imagery and experiences in my subconscious, I am very cognizant of the new information I am inputting and what is already there. My paintings have varied elements of realism, narration, expressionism, historical references, etc. that come directly from this mix of art history influences, life experience, and stream-of-consciousness imagery.

The creative process can be both exhilarating and challenging. Could you share some insights into your creative process and how you overcome artistic blocks?

I believe that intensely powerful art emerges when the subconscious is granted the agency to create. I employ a “stream of consciousness” method in which I seldom start with a plan before I begin painting. Sometimes I will take a few moments to pinpoint which emotions I am experiencing to gain clarity of what I’m working with, but this rarely includes predetermined imagery of what I’m going to paint. I start with one random stroke of color, and build up a chaotic mess of brushstrokes until a story starts to evolve. I often remember a quote of Michelangelo who said, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” This is exactly my approach to creating art and is the most important principle of my process. I believe that I am merely a vehicle of translation for whatever story in my subconscious wants to express. Each painting basically just consists of thousands of mistakes layered on top of each other that occasionally ends in a result I’m satisfied with. With every year I grow and learn as an artist, I become increasingly more confident that the end result of a piece really doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. If I feel that the work came from a genuine place in my heart, I gave it my all, and I worked it to a state of completion, then there’s nothing else to worry about besides starting the next piece. The creation of art is so much more about the fact of making it & the process rather than just the result of it. Art is about tapping
into a deep part of myself that can’t be described through identity, status, or experience. The more commitment I dedicate to my art practice, the more magic it seems to throw back at me.

Your recent series of paintings have a cadaver aesthetic to it. Have you spent time with dead bodies or at morgues?

Can you give us a glimpse into the themes and concepts that drive this body of work?
This past year I studied anatomy in a cadaver lab as well as filmed a mini-documentary interviewing the lab director, Rob Bouchie, on his experience in the field. I would stay in the lab until late studying and it was one of the wildest experiences I’ve had in art. As an artist trying to contemplate life and death, being so alive studying the inner workings and architecture of my existence in a room full of death was quite jarring to me. It added fuel to my existential fire and prompted a series of paintings of self-portraits with my bones, raw muscles, and inner neurology exposed.

Your artwork often explores the relationship between the past and present. Can you discuss the role of history and nostalgia in your creative work?
Absolutely- my work is fundamentally about growth & assigning meaning to the pain I experience and observe. In dark times, if I can leverage the pain and weight of an experience into something of beauty or knowledge- it feels worth enduring. My work is greatly inspired by the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, called Kintsugi. The art form became heavily intertwined with Japanese philosophy that is based on the Zen Buddhist approach to life’s pain and conflicts. The concept of Kintsugi revolves around mending something that is broken into something that is even more beautiful than it was before. This concept of Kintsugi is ultimately what my art is about; my paintings are all inseparably tied to growth. Kintsugi is the art of taking something that has withstood change and damage and transforming it into something even more beautiful; it is finding beauty in the cracks of our lives. Not dwelling on them, not blaming ourselves or others for them, not wishing for a different past. It is an act of radical acceptance- an act of love towards ourselves and others and towards the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of life. Life is about evolution; it is about mending all the parts of ourselves that are changing and breaking apart each day and
repeatedly getting up and gilding them with grace. I am always at work- in my life and art. I strive each and every day to keep getting stronger through my work. I am in love with the feeling of triumph that accompanies persevering through pain and struggle. Frida Kahlo is one of my favorite artists who always expressed life’s pains and plights so powerfully in her work as well. My paintings are a celebration of life’s infinite cycle of rebirth and regeneration; they are about the courage required to find the beauty in our pain and be vulnerable with emotions, experiences, love, and the fact that none of us really know anything. Growing and prevailing through all the ebbs and flows of life is technically inevitable, but is nonetheless revolutionary. It is a monumental achievement to wake up every day and have faith in life and art despite how cruel the world can be.

What advice would you tell to your younger artist self if you could?

I would tell myself that there will be periods where I need & want to take a step away from art, and it doesn’t mean that I’m giving up. I’ve grown to learn that the art is at work even when I’m not. Part of the process of creation is living a life full of love,
heartache, hustle, and emotion- gathering and enduring the life experiences to have a plethora of stories that deserve to be told. Art is such a competitive field to succeed in, that a prospect of ‘greatness’ can be quite crippling. I have been at work to lower the
pressure I put on myself- without necessarily lowering my expectations or dreams for what I’m capable of. I am taking it one day at a time and making it a mission to grow just a little stronger & get a little better each day. I believe that art requires a magnificent amount of faith- I never know if a work will be ‘worth it’ or leave me satisfied- but the
faith that it just might ruin out better than I could imagine is what keeps me going. Faith in life and love is what leverages me to pick myself back up and try again even when I feel that nothing seems to be working. Each person is capable of creating something of great value that has never existed before; it is our duty to believe in our innate creative potential and harness our power into something that gives back to the life which offers so much to us.

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