Painting the World as They See It
By: Camille Okhio
The artists Louis Fratino, María Berrío, and Anna Weyant are bringing a fresh perspective to figurative work.
The preteen and teenage years are both the most frivolous and the most intense periods of human experience. There is a primal, emotional understanding of urge, but the vocabulary and maturity to express it is often just out of reach. So instead, glances and gestures do the talking—often with muddled, confusing results. The 25-year-old artist Anna Weyant explores the discomfort and naivete of that age in her glumly hued, enigmatic oil paintings, often featuring women who closely resemble the artist and her friends. Sometimes presented as different chapters of the same narrative, Weyant’s compositions chart the mischievous self-discovery of someone anxiously sidling through spaces that are half memory, half dream.
Buzz around Weyant’s work began in 2018, with her inclusion in the group show “Of Purism,” at Nina Johnson gallery in Miami, curated by the multidisciplinary design firm Charlap Hyman & Herrero. Her painting in that show, Reposing V, could quickly be read as an odalisque for the Pilates-practicing Instagrammer. The central figure in the work is pale, like Weyant herself, her skin tinted slightly green, in harmony with her muted surroundings. Reclining in a bathrobe with a leg in the air, she poses for someone (likely another woman) just out of sight, whose presence is indicated only by a handheld iPhone reflected in a gilt oval mirror. The room she is in is minimally but sumptuously decorated, dark olive walls with a repeating diamond pattern subtly hinting at the padded walls of a mental institution. Right behind the shoulder of Weyant’s odalisque are peonies in the same shade, a day away from wilting.
Formally, very little is going on in these paintings, but the ambiguity of Weyant’s figures can still hold the viewer in steady and consistent conversation. It’s in the eyes—not looking at you, but fully aware that you are there. In a newer painting by Weyant, a female figure is positioned upside down, her head about to crash down on the step below her. “This image is derived from my own thoughts and experiences,” Weyant says, reclining in a corner of her apartment (a spare, sunlit space that doubles as her studio) on New York’s Upper West Side. “It’s not a literal translation, but it is definitely autobiographical... There is some joy in this fall, even though she’s inches away from her demise.”
Playing with scenarios that frighten her gives Weyant a feeling of control. A sense of macabre humor both tempers and heightens the emotional intensity of her subject matter. “I want the paintings to be funny, but I don’t want them to be a joke,” she says. “In a cartoon, you can run off a cliff and run back. But taken out of context, it’s darker.”
Weyant spent her childhood in Canada, and the lush hues of the wilderness that surrounded her often make their way into her work. “I grew up in Calgary but went to a weirdly conservative school an hour outside of the city, in the mountains,” she says. “Geographically, it was really beautiful, with a color palette of dark greens in the surrounding forests and mountains.” She trained in painting as an undergraduate at the Rhode Island School of Design, but only felt satisfied with her process years later. After RISD, she moved to New York and applied to graduate school but didn’t get in, experiencing what she refers to as the “20-year-old blues.” To cope, she started painting again, this time not for anyone but herself, alone and at home in the evenings after her day jobs (she worked as a studio assistant for fellow artist Cynthia Talmadge and in the office of Charlap Hyman & Herrero). At that time, she had no plans to share the finished product with anyone but her friends and family, but she eventually started working with the Lower East Side gallery 56 Henry, after an introduction by Talmadge in 2018 (she showed with the gallery a year later but is not represented by them).
Weyant’s paintings—with their references to Dutch masters like Frans Hals, Gerrit van Honthorst, and Judith Leyster, as well as to contemporary artists like John Currin, Ellen Berkenblit, and Lisa Yuskavage—soon garnered a following. In March, Weyant will have a solo show at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles. “Anna is clearly extremely gifted as a painter,” says Tim Blum, a co-owner of the gallery. “More important, the gifts of painting are coupled with an inherent self-awareness. This is just the beginning for her. She’s just going to get more and more complicated in all the best ways.”
Weyant is still getting used to the exposure. She often paints family and loved ones into her pictures, but her only model during the pandemic has been herself, and the large-scale results of those introspective months will be on view at Blum & Poe. “I love the idea of having these sorts of desperate and feeble characters be, literally, larger-than-life,” she says. “But I think of the paintings as little pages in my diary, so it’s difficult to have people reading them.”