Anna Weyant Embraces Dark Humor through Realist Painting
By: Paul Laster
A talented painter of eye-catching figurative pictures, Anna Weyant paints portraits and still lifes as convincingly as the Old Masters yet with the irony of the best Pop artists. Inspired by the painters of the Dutch Golden Age, Modernist masters, and contemporary art stars—as well as movies, music, novels, and children’s books—Weyant filters her influences through her mental and visual sieves to create charming canvases ripe with dark humor.
Since receiving a BFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2017, Weyant has been in a slew of impressive group shows on both the East and West Coasts and in Europe and Asia. Her work appeared on the cover of a 2020 issue of New American Painters, which was juried by critic Jerry Saltz.
Art & Object caught up with the in-demand artist to discuss her initial interest in art, opportunities that have come her way and how they have impacted her work, and her new paintings in Loose Screw, her Los Angeles solo show premiere at the prestigious Blum & Poe.
Paul Laster: When did you first become interested in art and how did you express that interest?
Anna Weyant: As my exposure to art increased, so did my interest. I saw an exhibition at Brown called SHE: Picturing women at the turn of the twenty-first century while I was in my second year at RISD. I remember it as the moment when I really fell in love with contemporary art. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with most of the artists in the show—George Condo, Cindy Sherman, Liza Yuskavage, and others.
PL: What was the source of inspiration for the initial artworks you made?
AW: I was looking at a lot of other artists. I can think of a few whose work I was really addicted to and tried to emulate. It was never quite right, though—it was like Goldilocks trying to get comfortable in someone else’s house.
PL: When did you start to consider that being an artist would be the right career move for you?
AW: At some point, it occurred to me that I am otherwise talentless.
PL: Were there any teachers who made a big impact on you and the way that you work now whom you studied with at RISD?
AW: I had so many awesome teachers. Kevin Zucker was particularly wonderful.
PL: Was it daunting to start showing your work when you were fresh out of school?
AW: Totally. I still find it intimidating. I’m so grateful that I get to do it, though.
PL: In a recent W Magazine article about your work, the writer Camille Okhio stated that the buzz around it began with your inclusion in a 2018 group show curated by the multidisciplinary design firm Charlap Hyman & Herrero (CHH) at Nina Johnson in Miami. And it was in another group show organized by the same talented team where I first saw one of your paintings, in the For Mario exhibition at New York’s Tina Kim Gallery in the summer of 2019. How did you hook-up with the firm?
AW: The For Mario show was so gorgeous. I’m always in awe of CHH’s work. They’re a brilliant team. The artist, Cynthia Talmadge, connected me to Adam Charlap Hyman. I worked for CHH for a period of time. It was a blast, and Adam was so kind to include me in the exhibitions.
PL: How did your participation in these types of notable group shows in Brussels, New York, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong help prepare you for your first solo show, Welcome to the Dollhouse, at New York’s 56 Henry in 2020?
AW: It’s all practice, I guess, and exposure.
PL: In the essay for that show, writer and curator Jens Hoffmann references more than two dozen possible influences—including artists Gerrit van Honthorst, René Magritte, and John Currin; Eloise author Kay Thompson; and filmmakers Todd Solondz and Sofia Coppola—when discussing your work. Are your influences that diverse? Who are some of the other creative folks who inspire your practice?
AW: I have a pretty eclectic range of influences and I source a lot of inspiration from other artists. The ones that you mentioned are all influential in ways. Recently, I’ve been obsessing over the work of Ella Kruglyanskaya and Ellen Berkenblit.
PL: Since he’s a contemporary painter of an earlier generation, what is it about John Currin’s work that you like?
AW: I could spend forever trying to figure it out. It’s a little bit magical, his work. There’s a great painting called The Fortune Teller by Gerrit van Honthorst. I’m really into the figure on the far right. When I first saw Currin’s work, I thought of the figure. He can talk to history in a really cool way.
PL: The title of the 56 Henry show, Welcome to the Dollhouse, came from a coming-of-age dark comedy film written and directed by Solondz, and it perfectly fits the paintings in the exhibition. Is there a source for Loose Screw, the title of your current solo show at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles, and if yes, how does it relate to the work on view?
AW: The exhibition is named after one of the paintings in the show, Loose Screw, which depicts a lone woman at a bar laughing. She looks somewhat desperate, lonely, and unhinged (and I can say that because it’s kind of a self-portrait). A lyric in Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady, “I probably got a couple of screws up in my head loose,” was the inspiration for the title. A lot of the work in the show deals with fear, desperation, isolation, ignorance, and sometimes aggression. Hopefully, there’s humor in places, too.
PL: What was the point of departure for the portraiture in the painting Loose Screw?
AW: Compositionally, it’s based on Otto Dix’s 1921 painting, Woman With A Red Hat. As for the column, Dix’s figure seems to exist in a void, so I wanted to use the column as a stand-in for another figure. I thought it was funny.
PL: Do you make drawings or sketches before starting such a complex canvas? What’s your process from concept to completion?
AW: I start by making a series of sketches and building a basic set or maquette. I usually use a model and/or a mannequin. Photography can also be a great tool.
PL: I love the Dutch-master-style still life painting Buffet—with a knifed loaf of bread that looks like a stabbed head, a basket of voluptuous eggs, and the threatening fish, which resemble sharks, on a plate. What’s the appeal of dark humor for you?
AW: Humor can be a way to control discomfort. Mark Twain said something about humor being "tragedy plus time.” If there’s humor in my work, it probably goes hand in hand with some sort of weird misery.
PL: The painting Falling Woman, which depicts an upside woman whose partially exposed breasts are affected by the gravity of the fall, is both comical and strange. Did you work with a model or was it based on an artwork or tale from the past?
AW: The title is a play on the term “fallen woman.” I wanted the fall to be sexy and kind of fun. It started with an Edward Gorey illustration of a girl tripping down a grand staircase. The woman in my painting is upside down, almost like a Georg Baselitz figure, only the pose is meant to be naturally occurring, not intentionally flipped.
PL: And the painting The End is, ironically precisely what the title implies. Is sexuality a subject that you are comfortable painting?
AW: Yeah, it’s probably a slow burn in my work, though. The painting is also hanging on the exit wall of the gallery, so it’s a little “the end, goodbye” piece in that sense, too.
PL: In a 2016 interview for Time Out New York, I asked the painter Elizabeth Peyton, "How many brushstrokes do you think it takes to capture the likeness or spirit of someone?" She said, “if you’re really good and you’re having a flow, you could probably do it in ten brushstrokes.” Considering that your paintings are more realistic and much more labor-intensive, would that question even be apropos?
AW: That’s so interesting and I envy that ability. I don’t have an answer to this yet, but I think that any good painting needs a handful of really strong marks.
PL: And although your paintings populate Instagram through multiple hashtags, and at least one of your canvases, Repose V, references the fashionable social media site by riffing on Manet’s Olympia with a stretching figure being photographed by a hand holding an iPhone that’s reflected in a mirror, you don’t personally participate. Is there a reason why you are no longer on Instagram?
AW: It’s overwhelming. I like to tuck into my shell.