Originally from Richmond, Anna Kenneally is an emerging painter, photographer and collagist currently completing a Fine Art degree at Bath Spa University. Taking inspiration from the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and her interest in fashion, Anna’s work boasts a vibrant aesthetic, with bold colours and striking female figures, often re-imagined from iconic artworks of the past. Just 21 years old, her work has already been included in a number of exhibitions and events in London and the South West over the last four years, and she recently won the 2017 S4R Creative Student Award. With her course coming to an end this year, we were excited to meet with Anna to find out more about her work and what we can expect to see from her in the future.
So how did you first become interested in painting?
I never remember making the choice to pursue painting – it has always appeared to be the right path for me.
Over the years I’ve engaged in various art based activities such as life drawing and screen-printing, which I have developed outside of education, and I worked with other mediums during my art foundation at Kingston University, which helped to reinforce my interest in painting. I also grew up in Kew and spent years drawing and painting in the Botanical Gardens, which has influenced key themes within my practice. Kew is also a place I visit when I’m in need of new inspiration as I actually find it as helpful as visiting galleries.
What would you say are the main driving forces behind your work?
There are separate elements that together form the subject of my paintings. I’m interested in depictions of the human form as the focal point of the work, and secondary to this I introduce elements of textile design and natural forms. The driving force behind my work is to interrogate how these subjects function together – I’m constantly evaluating the relationships between these collaged images.
More recently, I’ve been using the classical compositions of iconic artworks, with a contemporary portrayal of the figures. I want the work to construct Utopian worlds that mirror scenes of the past, commenting on materialistic themes and a shift in social attitudes from the time of the original reference.
My work often depicts opulent scenes, communicated through the use of material objects and symbolic gestures. My intention is to form a hybrid between the historical and the contemporary, showing the evolution of an idea.
You’re incredibly bold with your use of colour – why did you choose such a vibrant aesthetic for your work?
Much of my work seeks to reinvent existing paintings, which is evident in how I recreate compositions, but also in my technical approach to painting. A large quantity of my work uses a colourist approach to making a picture, mirroring the practice of pointillist painter, Georges Seurat. Exploring this very flat mode of painting links to the flattened surface of the digital image, where the majority of my subjects originate. The paintings strike a balance between abstraction and realism: I use photographs as the initial reference, but the aesthetic of the digital image is transformed by the application of paint.
Although each painting describes a different scene, they are visually coherent due to an integrated colour palette and habitual mode of paint application. My reaction to the photographic image through paint often results in highly contrasted and vibrant use of colour.
What do you most enjoy about painting, and what are the biggest challenges?
I find the act of oil painting most enjoyable as over time it’s possible to find new approaches to applying paint. This may be through knowledge of mixing colour or acquired experience of certain techniques. I also enjoy the intuitive nature of my work, using the initial collage as a reference but eventually leaving it behind and making choices for the sake of the painting.
I find my biggest challenge is justifying my subject matter and explaining the presence of the figure. Often each painting will achieve a different thing, exploring varying subjects, which are separated through historical events and source material. It can be difficult to show coherence of ideas as my interests can take the work in new directions.
On a practical note, I find the large scale nature of the work often makes transportation quite difficult. When moving work to exhibitions or a new home, I often need to hire vans or take paintings off their stretchers to make this possible. I have tried to downscale my work, yet I feel better suited to working on large surfaces.
Your subjects are predominantly female – is there a particular reason for this?
I have always had an interest in fashion and I tend to use the female figure as a way of introducing this into the work. Using myself as a subject for the work has also allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the character I am portraying and how time has transformed the intention of the re-imagined artwork.
How do you decide what to paint?
I think it’s important to paint the things you’re interested in, which for me involves constructing worlds that contain all these separate elements. I work with many mediums to develop different facets of my practice, including photography, film and installation.
My work is often based on handmade collages assembled using both found imagery and photographs I’ve taken. I compile these collages and keep sketchbooks, which provide me with a bank of images to refer to. I also draw as much as possible, as I am aware that it’s easy to be reliant on the photographic image.
Can you describe the creative process?
I would describe it as coming in unpredictable waves! Some days or even weeks I find it very difficult work – it’s easy to develop a fear of creating something that is simply a waste of paint. Methods for overcoming this, such as making surfaces to work on in preparation, and finding alternative ways of working, are crucial for maintaining productivity. This may be through drawing, photography or collage. By this point I usually have enough material to begin.
I tend to have four different paintings on the go at all times, and this allows me to focus my attention on various pieces when feeling stuck on a particular painting. Once I’m in this mode of working I feel full of ideas and energy.
What do you hope to achieve with your art?
I feel it’s a really exciting time to be painting. Photography has provided painting with so many new ways of both seeing and making work. Amongst other themes, my paintings explore the medium of photography and the effect this has on representation. More than anything, I just can’t wait to see the type of work I’m making in 20 years time. I think of painting as a diary, so when I look at older works I will not only see my technical progression, I will be reminded of interests and events of that time.
Can you tell us about any current projects you’re working on?
At the moment I’m working on a large oil painting based on one of my collages. It brings together three separate images all from different sources.
I want existing paintings to be a part of my work, and use them to construct narratives or themes. For this reason I’ve combined a model from a fashion campaign with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso. The ground of the painting is built from pixels that reference the colour palette of the foreground.
The digital world’s effect on painting is an ever-present exploration within my work.
And finally, what can we expect to see from you in the future?
Being in my final year, I’m currently looking at options for when I finish. Bath has been the perfect place to study for the last three years, yet I’m looking forward to moving back to Kew when I’ve completed my BA. I have a series of exhibitions to keep me occupied through the summer months. Our Degree Show will not only be on display at Bath Spa University, but will move to OXO’s Bargehouse in late July. Amongst other painting courses and residencies, I’m applying to the Royal Drawing School, as I feel my work could benefit hugely from this.
Regardless of what I end up doing, as long as I can keep painting and stay engaged, I will be happy!
About the Artist
Anna Kenneally’s paintings construct Utopian worlds that mirror scenes of the past, recorded throughout history. These worlds comment on materialistic themes and a change in meaning from the original pictorial reference. Interested in creating balance between abstraction and representation, her work creates a photo-impressionist aesthetic, investigating the possibilities that photography has provided for painting.