What’s it all about ? - Anna Foka

« He who can no longer pause to wonder
and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead »
Albert Einstein

What’s it all about ?

It’s about stories. Little stories without a beginning, middle or end. Scenes that I have lived through or imagined and others that I have borrowed from fantastic literature and the cinema. At first, everything revolved around man. Influenced by expressionism, I drew figures with exaggerated features in dramatic poses. Ageless androgynous bodies in improbable settings, situations that lie behind a story expressed as much by the pencil strokes used to render the characters, as by the gestures of the latter. I speak of characters because, as opposed to unknown, minor extras, it is possible to find Mickey Mouse, Beauty and the Beast, Punch or the three little pigs in surrealistic tête-à-têtes. These are recurring figures in my work that bear witness to my fondness for fairy tales, the commedia dell’arte, burlesque and cartoons.

A child of Pop Art, I was also influenced by advertisements, that perfect mirror of today’s popular culture. I made use of common stereotypes such as invincible men and seductive women, which I juxtaposed with purely fictional characters as well as historical, mythological or religious figures taken from the history of art. There is something profoundly Felliniesque in this merry parade of individuals that are, in principle, incompatible. Yet while this mix of genres and styles may at times bewilder the viewer, it also reveals the universal nature of certain archetypal figures.

From working on paper and the ‘out-of-context’ figures characteristic of my early works, I gradually moved on to painting on canvas and spatial representation. All those silhouettes that used to be suspended in space, little by little began to find their place in a more or less clearly defined environment. This new component, namely constructed space, was to me practically a necessity. I had to create a playground for my characters, surroundings that could highlight their action, and at the same time I wanted to delve into more ambitious pictorial compositions. Through experimentation, I quickly learned that figure and space are constantly interacting, to the point where they shape each other. Man soaks up the space he inhabits and, in the same way, he leaves traces of himself wherever he goes. Container and content thus became equal in my eyes – alike, thus interchangeable – and began to move freely into one another, like liquid in communicating vessels. In terms of technique, I did away with boundaries by discarding in places the outlines that separate forms, I removed subject matter, I worked on transitions; and it was a true delight to watch an arm extend into the object it is holding and the amalgam of the two merge into the background.
This new pictorial treatment resulted in the creation of a rather distinctive atmosphere. Superimposed views, arbitrary focal points, transparency created using glaze, and the constant ‘brushing’ of the pictorial surface ended up making the portrayed figures look more and more disembodied – like ghosts – and the entire painting gained a dreamlike quality, like a vision, a hazy memory, or even an optical illusion. Despite the presence of a central or foreground figure, the instances where it would gaze directly at the viewer became increasingly rare. As it gradually disappeared, the face gave up its place to a patch of untouched canvas or an abstractly painted section. There is no point in trying to identify the person depicted: the little girl with the red satchel is me, it is you; it is the wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, two in one.

What precisely are these ambiguous, silent and yet oh so eloquent figures telling us? They are telling us stories that deal with fear: the fear of an indefinable menace that looms up out of nowhere, the fear of monsters, or the fear of being a monster. They speak of the complexity of human nature, of the solitude of modern existence and of the distress caused by physical and psychological separation. They speak of peoples’ connection with their past and their need to retrace their history so that they may understand who they are. Acting as both narrators and actors, the characters I paint find themselves at the same time inside and outside the painting’s story, which enables them to observe their own adventures with a contemplative eye. Able to reinvent themselves at any moment, they bask in the freedom of being anything and its opposite. This plural existence, this ability to remove oneself from the ordinary context in order to become part of a new landscape, proves to us that it is possible to exist elsewhere and differently, as long as one is able to conceive this existence and make it happen.

As Shakespeare wrote, «all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players». A painting is the place where life is being played out, as much as the real world is. In both cases, there is a reversal of roles: it is no longer life that serves as a model for fiction, but rather fiction that acts as a paradigm for explaining the human condition. The use of imagination – which fiction feeds on – does not detract at all from the truth of the matter; it offers just what those who dream of escape need in order to whet their appetite for wonders.
When it comes down to it, is all this true? After all, Snow White is nothing but ink on paper. To make her portrait, I myself was inspired by an old illustration with faded colours. It is astonishing how, as they move away from us, our childhood images assume a disquieting oddness… Essentially, everything that I have done up to now is nothing but a reflection on the passing of time and on the changes it brings about. It is like saying «I’m grown up now and I just don’t believe in all this any more» or rather, «I would gladly believe in it again». Why? Because it makes life more bearable.

Anna Foka