Today at Atmos is the first day we are posting a piece from our series of interviews with artists in their work spaces. For our inaugural post, we were lucky enough to have the chance to meet with abstract, visual artist, Eleanna Anagnos in her studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Read along below to hear about her process and work! *This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.
Atmos: Do you remember the first thing that inspired you as an artist growing up?
Eleanna: I remember the first painting. It was a very colorful painting in the foyer of this woman’s house who, was like a surrogate mother to me. I would spend hours staring at it. It was sort of this tropical motif …I don’t know where it was from, like an island painting. I was mesmerized, studying it all of the time.
A: Do you remember how old you were?
E: It was a first memory so sometime around three or four. I [know] it was before I was five.
A: It’s so interesting how something so young can affect you for your entire life. What inspires your current work?
E: I have this connection with my mother and it inspires my thinking about my work. So since I was 15 my mother somatizes my internal, emotional experience. So if I’m in conflict with another human being or even in conflict internally she will feel it in real time no matter our positions on the globe. I can be in France and she’ll be in Chicago and it will wake her up in the middle of the night. I kind of just lived with it and that was it until about 2011 when I really started to investigate it and ask questions. ‘Well what are scientists saying about this?’ ‘What are people saying about this?’ ‘What does the research show?’ There must be a name for this. So I started doing research and all I found were scientists discrediting it. But it’s my lived reality so…I don’t accept that. …The paradigm that scientists use just…doesn’t work. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real. So there are limitations under the paradigm they’re working under. I don’t think it’s so unique what my mom [experiences]. I believe her sense is developed, but I know twins that have this experience and that sometimes a familial bond makes it stronger. But I believe that we’re all connected, each of us, in much stronger ways than we let ourselves comprehend or understand. Our energy and our personhood goes beyond our skin. There’s so much evidence in my life that has proven this idea time and time again. Research and life experiences have all informed my thinking on this; it’s a mixture of mysticism and metaphysics.
E: …When I was giving a lecture as a visiting artist at Wassaic Projects, one of the residents came up to me afterwards and said “You must know about the Platonic solids and the Platonic elements” and I had no idea what she was talking about. Apparently Plato had created this way of understanding the universe through geometry. But then later after he made these symbols and made these explanations, archeologists found Neolithic stones that had the same drawings on them that Plato had drawn. So…obviously the Neolithic stones had come first, but it’s interesting that that had happened centuries [later]. The resident had thought that there was a connection because some of the symbols in my works sort of pick up on those geometric drawings, but I didn’t know.
E: So that was an exciting discovery. I’m interested in universal truths and what underlies our existence and I think that a lot of cultures in centuries before us use the triangle in a way to talk about some of these things.
I want the work to look old like a tablet, a fossil or something, but also firmly in the present at the same time because I want to tie in that the subject matter is the same. While we culturally think about our reality very differently than we did centuries ago, regardless about how we think about it, how we are energetically united and tied to one another remains the same. I think everyone has the tools my mom has. She’s just tapping into it.
A: Do you think when you have a child, you’ll be able to tap into it?
E: It hadn’t occurred to me that I might be able to feel my child the way my mother feels me. Maybe.
A: Do you have siblings?
E: I do and she says she doesn’t feel it with them.
A: Where are you in the birth order?
E: I’m the first
A: Maybe you used up all the juice and they never got anything. It’s so true though, the human experience will always remain the same, regardless of what time you’re in.
E: Ha ha, maybe so. I was just reading this article about medieval families and they didn’t live with their blood relatives. This idea of a home was so different. This is an example of a cultural difference that is of a time or of a place. But then there’s this undercurrent, something of our very being, the essence of our existence, and how things manifest, that remains the same across cultures, space and time. And that’s what I’m interested in.
A: That’s fascinating…. do you have a favorite piece of yours that you have created?
E: Well, I have a couple favorites. It’s hard because they’re like your children.
A: I mean there’s always one right?
E: It’s hard to really [pick]…there are things about certain pieces that I really love. I sort of have a soft spot for this pale pink one, called Temple of Ma’at. I kind of love that one. But I also really love this one (points to her work, Petra). I think it was because first of all it’s a pretty strange piece. There’s this phallic, negative space that’s breaking the square/rectangle. It’s not exactly a square/ rectangle, which I like. It’s pretty wonky, the surface is moonlike…kind of very textured in this specific way. Then the language of the polka dots, with this pointy pillow thing coming out…[with] the black sand.
I think I love that one because it seemed like it was failing or a B painting. It would have been fine, what it was, was okay, but I made it from an OK painting, or maybe a failed painting to something really special to me. I love that experience because it feels like I kind of saw it through. On all levels: on texture on color and contrast, all the things. Form and line, I feel like it all came together. I title the work by what is happening in the world or in my life when they were made. Or I’ll tie into my overarching concept. This one is called Petra, because at the time, when I made it that week, or that day, they had just discovered Petra. Which is this ancient town [in Jordan]. And the discovery really moved me.
A: And it is otherworldly, really. So, a piece like that, you consider it so successful, do you start using techniques in later works because you liked this one so much? Or is it kind of you reserve this technique for this one?
E: I like to mix it up. Often with me, you’re not going to get the same painting over and over again. I think the materiality or different ways of saying the same thing are really fun for me, so even with the works on paper, it’s still the same content, I’m still thinking about the same things and I have for the longest time. But I’m using different materials to talk about those things.
A: Do you hang any of your own pieces in your home?
E: I do, but it’s funny because they’re really old pieces, 2009/2010 which I always kind of chuckle to myself [about] that’s what’s in my house. The rest of the work in my house is my collection that I’m really proud of, and building upon. I have a couple Stanley Whitney’s and a Marina Adams, Eric Hibit, Jane Fox Hipple, Catherine Haggarty, Will Hutnick, Joshua Bienko.
A: So you collect other artists’ work?
E: Yes, usually. Sometimes I buy it but oftentimes I’ll swap my work for their work.
A: What is your favorite New York City gallery?
E: Of course, I love the gallery I co-direct, Ortega y Gasset Projects! I also admire the programs at Salon 94, Derek Eller Gallery, Johannes Vogt, Stephen Harvey Projects, On Stellar Rays and Yours Mine & Ours.
A: OK, favorite New York City museum you like to go see or doesn’t even have to be in the city, so favorite museum?
E: Well my favorite museum of all time is the Tate Modern, in London.
A: I love the Tate; [it’s] excellent.
E: It’s so good. Every time I go there, even if I don’t love the artist, I’ll go [see] the show if I’m in London. And I’ll leave the show, completely 1000% into the artist, understanding the work, and that’s the goal. The goal is to educate, to have someone understand. They do such an amazing job every time. Every time I go it’s amazing.
A: It’s incredible and I feel like the space itself is really just…I’m in awe every time I go too it because it’s just cavernous.
E: It’s so good. And they have all these programs for children and it’s just amazing. What they do is incredible. In New York I think that my favorite museum is a tie between The Whitney and the MET. And then I’d say, in the Midwest, The Art Institute. Also The St. Louis Museum of Art is pretty amazing.
A: Did you like the Whitney Biennial?
A: You did? It was really overwhelming for me. I went on a Sunday and the show itself I feel is very overwhelming and then I went and there were a million people. …The combination of the insane amount of people with just a really overwhelming show was just….I had to go back a second time and I felt a lot better about it the second time I went. That first time I couldn’t handle it.
E: I went four times which sounds insane. I enjoyed Carrie Moyer and Henry Taylor paintings and Samara Golden’s installation. Samara’s installation surrounded a large window that overlooks the Hudson River. The installation was so incredible that people weren’t spending time gazing out over the river. That is powerful work. Work that can compete with a river sunset is tops.
A: No it [the exhibition] is a lot, so if you really want time with it, you should go back multiple times. Anyway, any advice for aspiring young artists?
E: Yeah, I think…three things: Develop relationships with mentors and people you admire and also who care about you. [Second], I think that it’s extremely important to build a community of like-minded individuals, where you can have discourse and studio visits so you’re constantly in dialogue with others. I think that’s huge and helps you get outside of yourself a little bit. Three, most importantly, keep making the work.
I’ll pass on this piece of advice that Pat Steir gave to me when I asked her this question 10 years ago. I said ‘Pat, if you had one piece advice to give to a young, aspiring painter, what would it be?’ and she said “Keep the judge out of the studio, they don’t belong there”. It was so epic for me because I’m so critical of myself and my work that it’s inhibiting, it’s not helpful. So at that moment, when she said that, I started balling and I couldn’t [stop], it was like she had opened a flood gate or something, and I couldn’t stop for about 30 minutes.
A: Sometimes you just need someone else to tell you that. You can tell yourself the same thing over and over again and it’s not going to hit until someone else tells you that.
E: Exactly, so that was important to hear. And also when you asked [what inspires my work], I also mention Pat because… much later in life I was living in Rome and she had this retrospective [there] and my professor said to go see Pat’s work. He explained that her work got so much better when she realized her greatest strength was her touch and that it was about having distance between her hand and the canvas. I was pouring through books and he stopped me: ‘No, you need to go see work in person, go to Pat’s show.’ That was this epic turning point for me, really understanding that you have to go see work in person, no matter what.
A: That’s so true. Last question, what’s your ideal studio environment when you’re working? Do you like quiet? Do you like music?
E: I like listening to music while I work. I use music to get me into a creative space and drown out all the chatter. Although, Twyla Tharp, in her book, The Creative Habit, was adamant about learning to work in silence. I just couldn’t do it.
A: Is this your only studio at the moment?
E: Yeah this is it. I’m so grateful to have it.
A: Do you work normally during gallery hours?*
E: No, I try to come in when the gallery is not open.
A: Just so it’s your full focus. Well thank you so much for meeting with me today Eleanna, I really appreciate it!
E: Thank you!