Audrey Anastasi has stellar skills with drawing and painting and collage. Her subjects are women, nature, and women in nature. Look at the images in this post, and notice her women all seem absorbed in deep introspection.
The image above is titled Red Birch. It’s 22 x 29.5 inches, drawing and mixed media collage on watercolor paper. In this work, birch trees create a thicket in front of a woman’s face.
Anastasi starts each work as a quick figure study in charcoal and pastel, done in the presence of a live model. She works using her non-dominant hand, and when she returns to her studio, she turns the drawing into a collage with torn and pasted images from magazines, various language newspapers, print publications and her previous drawings. Anastasi says: I am working within the intersection of disciplined control and randomized instinct. It’s a quest to discover and reveal what is most essential.
Anastasi says she is a feminist and her first commitment is to painting other women, the human face and figure, and adds: I want to suggest that women have an inner life beyond any exterior representation.
I asked the artist to comment on individual works for this interview post.
Q: Are the trees in Red Birch painted or are they created with collage?
Anastasi: I employ paper and natural elements for collage. Sometimes I use fragments of paper. The sequence of layering elements varies. I work organically in response to how the image starts to take form.
The image above is titled Creation. It’s 24 x 36 inches, mixed media on Mylar. Anastasi says every painting or drawing is an opportunity to be experimental and explore endless variations with technique, pattern and repetition.
Q: Are the works with trees about the fragility of nature?
Anastasi:. These are the forests of childhood fairy tales where one is hopelessly lost, but also aware of the power and renewal in nature.
Q: Do you think your works would look different if you drew with your dominant right hand?
Anastasi: Yes, quite definitely. I don’t have the same fine motor control with my left hand. I think working with my non-dominant hand creates a tension that disrupts the confidence and fluidity of working with my right hand.
The image above is titled Ancestry. It’s 30 x 22 inches, drawing and mixed media collage on watercolor paper.
Q: What are the sources for your collage papers for this work?
Anastasi: The model was originally drawn in charcoal on pinkish tinted watercolor paper. I found photographs in a National Geographic magazine article about African burial sites and objects such as masks. The concept of reaching across time and place provided a catapult for me to fuse the images of ancestral artifacts with the image of a quiet figure.
The image above shows the artist standing in front of her large painting titled Disillusionment.
Q: How did you physically work on this painting?
Anastasi: This work started with a live model session and added collage elements in my studio later, when the oil paint was dry. My model is an avant-garde burlesque performer and a fire breather. We discussed her pose for this painting. It may appear she is wrapping herself in a protective cocoon of gauzy fabric, or that she is breaking fee of it. The shreds of newspaper raining down on her are torn from an article in the Arts section in the New York Times about how artists struggle to communicate and connect with the public after creating their work.
The image above is the front cover of a recent 64-page paperback catalog titled COLLAGE: Portfolio of Artwork by Audrey Anastasi. The introduction by Giancarlo T. Roma, describes collage as fragmentation – where disparate elements are pasted together to form a new whole. He wrote: Audrey Anastasi uses this idea to convey the complexity of our inner lives – that we are not one thing, even to ourselves. The image on the cover is a mixed media collage titled Touch, 28 .5 x 22 inches, drawing and mixed media collage on watercolor paper.
Q: Does the background in this collage include cut and pasted fragments of maps?
Anastasi: Yes and, for me, maps are inherently engaging, both visually, literally and conceptually. Maps draw us in with lines, text and color. We decipher, follow and determine a route when we look at maps. Metaphorically, the complexity of markings, and the suggestion of embarking toward a destination, parallels the tangled journey of our inner lives.
The portfolio catalog titled COLLAGE is available for purchase at audreyanastasi.com
The image above is titled Cold View. It’s 19 x 12 inches, drawing and mixed media collage on museum board.
Q: How did you determine what collage papers to use?
Anastasi: This collage is fairly monochromatic, and is a study in subtle values that brings to my mind Whistler’s painting Arrangement in Gray and Black. I used cool grey snowy magazine photos in combination with the warmer-toned drawing surface, and flat black acrylic gesso paint.
The Artist’s Background
Q: Was your art making encouraged in your home?
My mother was perfectly happy to indulge my myopic world. I was content to spend the day in the playpen. Literally, I have always been near-sighted, so my most gratifying world involved reading, drawing and painting.
Q: Did you take art classes as a child?
Yes, every week my mother would walk me past the fabulous head of Nefertiti encased in glass, and past the Egyptian mummies, to my art classes at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Q: Your biography says you cannot remember a time when you did not have a paintbrush or pencil in your hand.
That is true.
Q: Did you major in art as an undergraduate at the University of Miami? Did you have any special teachers that influenced you?
Yes I did major in art at college, and my high school art teacher mentored me through the process of applying for a scholarship so I could attend college. In my family, I, as a female, was not expected to continue advanced education after high school. Unlike my classmates, I didn’t know anything about colleges, thinking Ivy league referred to a fashion statement. My art teacher’s name was Miss Violet, and she influenced the trajectory of my life.
The image above is titled Miami Night. It’s 11 x 14 inches, drawing and mixed media collage on museum board.
Q: What do you want us to think she is thinking? Why is there a 2nd portrait? If you can read the text, is it important to know what the text collage says to understand the context for the portrait?
Anastasi: I think the woman in Miami Nightseems relaxed and comfortable within herself. She has a tattoo of a woman’s face on her arm. I have always been interested in both physical and pictorial layering, including art depicted within art. In this case, I selected paper with text to add some activity to the otherwise static general tonality of the shadowed areas.
The image above is titled Celestial Night. It’s 29×22 inches, drawing and mixed media collage on watercolor paper
Q: Were the cut shapes of the collage papers a deliberate design choice?
Anastasi: Sometimes the paper choices are formal first, and become thematic as each shred of paper builds the composition. I was drawn to the beautiful night sky supernova photos, as well as some city light and water images that were pasted throughout the anatomy. As this piece developed, I took the chance of landing a supernova right where the model’s nipple would be, risking it to be seen as a hokey illustrative element. But ultimately, I felt that it worked, integrating the individual with the cosmos.
Q: Can you say how long it took to make this work (also how long it takes you to work on any other work)? Many people want to know when an artist knows a work is finished.
Anastasi: The drawing aspect of this and most of the other similar works starts with an approximately 20 minute pose. At a later time, alone in the studio, I will select from various drawings with “collage potential” and start working with the other materials. I work quickly, standing over a horizontal surface, tearing or cutting papers, arranging and rearranging, stopping occasionally to commit to pasting, and perhaps revisiting more layers of drawing or painting in the process.
It’s hard to put into words when I decide a work is complete. I do usually keep work pinned to a wall where I can see it at various distances. And I like to see how a work photographs. I may revisit it at different intervals. Although part of me is never completely satisfied with any work, I seem to reach a point where I no longer feel compelled to make changes. So in terms of quantity of time working, there are just a handful of hours in execution, but a few days to a few months in gestation.
The image above shows a pastel figure drawing of a nude with a darker line drawing of a tutu dress on top.
Anastasi: That model’s nude pose reminded me of Degas’ little statuette sculpture of the Dancer, which was my inspiration to “clothe“ the model in the tutu.
Q: What made you decide to turn figure drawings into the series titled Paper Dolls?
The title Paper Dolls references childhood activities and the early formation of identity for many women. Embellishing the figure, originally drawn from the nude, in the completed work, the body has become “dressed” and the clothing makes a statement about the female subject, expressing either the true self or an alter ego or seduction, fashion ability or practicality. The process involves an interactive start, working from life, and then the solitary process of collaging, drawing, painting, or sewing to create a person covered and acceptable to enter the public milieu.
See more images in the Paper Doll series.
Q Did you play with or create your own paper dolls as a girl?
Yes, I did.
Q: Does the image above include sewing?
Yes, this mixed media work includes articles of my own clothing, cut up and glued to the surface.
The book titled Ref-u-gee is due out in May 2020 and will include images of works by Audrey Anastasi from a commissioned project. The artist was asked to create works on the subject of forced migration. Anastasi created 180 small paintings on plasticized passport photo “protectors,” each approximately 5 x 7 inches. This base material has pre-printed text referring to checklist items and documents related to travel preparations. The project also included four 8 foot tall panels.
Tabla Rasa Gallery
Audrey Anastasi and her husband Joseph founded the Tabla Rasa Gallery in Brooklyn, NY.
The gallery profiles works by emerging, mid-career, and established artists in solo and group exhibitions in a wide range of styles, themes and media, including painting, sculpture, installation, drawing, print, photography, digital, film and video. Tabla Rasa Gallery is located in the burgeoning industrial district of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY within a 4000 sq. ft. historic turn-of-the-century carriage house.
Tabla Rasa Gallery is currently between projects and doing some space upgrades and maintenance.
Visit audreyanastasic.com to see more images in her series titled Nature, Figuration, Installation and more.