Weaving pen, vivacious watercolour and witty written word, artist Anouk Colantoni’s work is liberatingly womanly and real. A rollercoaster of boobs, sex, relationships and brazen humour pulsate across her frenetic, funny illustrations , as she shares with us stories of women in society and life that we can all relate to. As warm, personal and wonderfully open as her art, we chatted to Anouk about her journey living in NYC from Fashion Editor to entering the world a working artist.
In Australia, you worked in fashion as an editor - how did you end up becoming an artist in New York?
I took risks and opportunities that presented themselves to me - from my first role at Vogue, to Brand Director at a fashion startup to luxury lifestyle stylist - that were outside my comfort zone and the set career path in the fashion world that I was on. Then they no longer made sense to me - financially, ethically, creatively.
Life that happened around these career choices is the real creative path I have been on, creating my life and myself - and so the other side of the answer is that I came to NYC unsure of what to do with my life as a whole. I always drew passion from being proud of what I did for work, but also I began to feel like I was doing things to please other people not myself, and through taking some great right turns and even more terribly wrong ones - falling down and dusting myself off after licking my wounds - I have built a community around opportunity through which to express my life experience. Through visual arts I am now connecting more authentically as a creative with my world and experience.
From Fashion Editor and back to Fashion Assistant, this exposed me to the top creatives in the industry; Camilla Nickerson at Vogue, working on Celine and McQueen - developing the collections and the character pushed my limits - back up to a Director role, side-stepping into Styling. [I was] bursting at the seams to say all the things I felt as a woman but not knowing how - that is where my art came out. It was the bitter sweet goodness of a city squeezing me from every direction. That is how my art began.
Honestly, I battle with my inner dialogue about all the opportunities I said no to, wasn’t ready for and couldn’t see clearly. I see now what I have done, how it is developing and the woman I am becoming; able to handle what I want for my future and [recognise] that I now have a broad skill set and creative process and community to collaborate with.
My skills and feeling as a Fashion Editor are often those that I use to make art through; colours, textures and editing what I show. I have had friends close to me tell me - Anouk, you know 8 years ago you said “I want to be an artist”, Anouk, you know, 4 years ago when the start up you worked for closed, you said “ I just want to be an artist” - I am trying to drop into trusting that my manifesting skills are strong, even if I didn’t know it at the time. If I focus on them I can make things happen I didn’t even know I was dreaming of!
I think the bravery of having my first show SAFETY IN NUMBERS at The Hole Gallery (53 small scale art works that spoke of moments of my life and of those around me in NYC), really was so scary, it forced me to show who I really was for the first time - and people connected to it and here I am!
Is art something you studied, or are self-trained - and when did you first start illustrating?
I am self-taught. By that I mean I didn't go to fine art school and get a degree. I would love to have that now, that focus on projects - but my art and technique came from my years of creating in my own time. I had just never considered showing it until a few years ago… Thank you to the human in my life who got me drawing in his backyard - because a moment of real, private authentic creation has led to this space.
What mediums do you work in?
Mostly watercolors, ink and pen.
So your art is particularly feminine and overtly vocal - with a touch of erotica I guess? What words would you use to describe your work?
Feminine, vocal and a touch of the erotic! Sounds like you are describing me as a person - ha!
But I guess that is actually very fair, as my art and processes are very much self-referential, or come from my experience of the world through the filter of being a woman. My inability to say what I feel, my ability as a woman to transform from a caretaker to a sexual being to a business woman to a daughter to a friend to a sloppy sofa bound dork who wants to make miniature models - and to feel the pressure to be good at all things at once - really squeezed my artwork into a funnel [to ask] who is really being honest in the world, what is right and wrong, what do I relate to and why does it matter?
The erotic and sensual art is not what I would call overtly vocal - maybe when I make a film piece it may - but I create works that sway between both sides of my sexuality; the experience-seeking, risk-taking, boundary-pushing side - a dark-humour is drawn true where women want to dare to do what they shouldn’t as a “good, smart, successful woman” and how I put down that side of myself - and then there are the soft, sensual watercolours and delicate moments of intimacy that do not need explaining or need humour to soften the blow of how real they are. All these elements of being sexual, sensual and alive are what make me whole and I explore them in my work.
Do you feel your art, pushing the boundaries of what is feminine, is confronting to some?
The definition of feminine is 1. having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness. 2. "a feminine frilled blouse" 3. sy 4. womanly, ladylike; 5. of or denoting a gender of nouns and adjectives, conventionally regarded as female.
I dare to say that if DELICACY AND PRETTINESS makes up a woman, a ladylike being - then with my delicate and pretty method I challenge you to show that I am, we are, still women, sometimes feminine - and it is ok to be confronting, and strong and still be loved and celebrated as a woman.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Through experience. In NYC life. In my journey, in the places I have lived, in my friends and family dynamics, though works of artists such as Joan Didion, Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin, Brett Whitney, Steingard, the Studio Ghibli and Disney animations that still rock my socks off. The music of Chilly Gonzalez. In the touch of others. And in my alone time. More alone time makes me connect to the world much better.
What do you feel is art’s role is in todays modern society?
FEEL SOMETHING. We need art to express the things that people are too afraid to say in their daily lives in case of rejection by their peers, their work places, their families. What if there is just one image or one sentence or one song that blows all your sense of understanding into a new space. It is a place to retreat when logic won’t cut it. At the moment I am obsessed with reading Joan Didion - her sentences on character, self-respect and finding out who she is makes me weep, feel less alone and then feel strong and proud to be a part of making something creative. Artists can help society be less fearful but also help to open people's eyes to things they are ignoring.
Do you have a uniform for the studio?
I am a woman who dresses for the way she feels- a uniform actually makes me feel sad or stifled, not liberated. This summer and fall my fave things to wear are slips in the studio (and outside of the studio), with cashmere sweaters and a beret for my cold little head. I like to have comfort and drama in my outfits. Even if it's a lick of red lipstick I feel delicious and onto it. I think chipped-paint covered nails and lipstick may be it!
How do you approach personal style?
It is just that - personal. I like to feel things snug to my body, like a dancer. I love leotards and wrap tops, high waist pants and things that make sense to my curves. I like my wardrobe to be a place to express myself, but also to allow a real sense of my growth and change. I dress for me.
What are some of your most beloved pieces in your wardrobe?
Oh la la my new Lee Mathews slips and sheer dresses!
Leotards from ballet stores - black.
My Merlette wrap top - dramatic and chic.
Isa Tapia ballet flats.
Peach vintage slacks from Paris.
My calf-hide handbag from an antique store in Tasmania (where I am from).
Giant gold hoops - minimal meets maximal - just like my personality.
My vintage fur - I am somewhere between Greta Garbo and P. Diddy in this gift I gave myself for my 30th.
How has your style changed from living in Sydney to New York?
It has 100% morphed, developed. NYC practicality is very different from my Sydney style needs! The seasons here mean I need distinct seasonal coats and shoes- as these are my car in NYC, I go everywhere in them and they need to keep me protected and chic. I now have elements of denim and sneakers in my wardrobe - something I never did in Australia. They are practical to ride on bikes around town, great to paint in and kind of cool. I also find that in NYC you can be at 5 things in one day so I wear outfits that can be changed to suit and not have to go home. No such thing as time to change.
What do you love about living in the city that never sleeps?
The support and the brave people that live here. There is a community thriving on people wanting each other to succeed. The diversity of people you get to meet too. The fact that it is a place where I said “I want adventure. I want to push the boundaries on my beliefs” and well, I have gotten it! Manifest and you shall receive - no matter if you can handle it or not... I think the worst thing about the town are the distractions but really this is just the good stuff out of balance. You need a real ability to focus and know when to not look around!
Best gallery to visit in NYC?
I love the Neue Gallery and I love seeing what is new at David Zwirner. The Hole Gallery where I showed my first solo show is great for contemporary art… I just love going to openings in galleries and spaces I have never been to, to be honest. Surprise is everywhere, every day!
Where can we see some of your work?!
What are you working on at the moment, and what is up next for you?
What is up next for me - what a great question! I am about to launch a collaboration of hand-painted ceramics with artist @beaurush -and I am working on new art works and collaborations in interiors and architecture - homes and spaces that are inspiring - bringing them to life - and I am working to more large scale figurative works…. Watch out!