Since graduating from Central Saint Martins BA Fine Art in 2004, where Charles Saatchi bought her final year collection ‘Boys’, Annie Kevans has had solo exhibitions in New York, London and Vienna. She has recently collaborated with Jean Paul Gaultier to produce a series of paintings depicting his muses, which are currently on display at The Barbican and will tour with the exhibition to Melbourne, Paris and Munich. Shortlisted for the Women of the Future awards and the Jerwood Drawing Prize, her work can also be found in major collections including the Pallant House Gallery, the Saatchi Collection, 21c Museum, and the David Roberts Collection. Kevans’ paintings reflect her interests in power, manipulation and the role of the individual in inherited belief systems. Having an affinity for the marginalised, Kevans paints figures overlooked, exploited, or objectified within the context of history or contemporary culture. Kevans’s ‘Women and the History of Art’ at the Fine Art Society this year received phenomenal praise from across the arts and national press.
Who or what first inspired you to follow your chosen career?
Art has always been part of my life. My parents both left school very early but both took short courses in art and they left London to move to the South of France because they loved the Impressionists and the landscapes they painted. My mother took evening classes at St Martin’s (as it was known in the 1960s) and my father did a few at Goldsmiths. I was always told it was impossible to make a living in art so I first studied languages which led me to move to Barcelona where I tried to be a painter while I taught English. I had no idea what I was doing and felt very cut off from the artists living there. I wasn’t allowed into a life-drawing class because I was ‘not professional’ and I used to get very jealous of the numerous art students walking around the streets with their portfolios. When I moved back to London I took an evening class at the Camden Arts Centre and was encouraged to apply to art school by a teacher there. I remember the feeling of absolute joy when I finally began my Foundation course at Central Saint Martins and I knew then there was no turning back.
What are you working on at the moment?
I paint series of ‘portraits’ (some are not based on real documentation) and I like to examine our verdicts on history and our perceptions of intellectual solidity. I’m currently working on a series called ‘Women and the History of Art’, the first part of which is currently being shown at the Fine Art Society. It centres on women in art history who were once leading figures in the art world and whose history and significance have been gradually eroded so they are ultimately forgotten to a modern audience.
What are you most passionate about?
At the moment I’m most passionate about my work. I only recently discovered that, as early as the 16th century, there were brilliant female artists who were international celebrities with fantastic careers and exciting lives. I’ve been researching these women and feel very angry that their contributions to art have been so overlooked and disregarded. Where are the books and films about these women? Why are the women Impressionists not shown today as equals to their male counterparts when they once were? Why are they separate from art history and relegated to a genre of their own?
I feel like this series will be my biggest and most important to date and I plan to carry on with it for some time. I have a show coming up in San Francisco and I plan to focus on women who had very successful careers in America. I recently saw a brilliant documentary on the forgotten female artists of Pop Art and I’m painting great artists like Pauline Boty and Marisol.
Which piece of art/design/performance/communication/fashion do you wish you had created?
I wish I had painted Gas Chamber (1986) by Luc Tuymans. Every time I see the work, I have a strong physical and emotional reaction.
Where is your favourite London haunt?
The River Lea which runs through Clapton where I live with my husband and daughter. Our flat overlooks the river and we like to kayak on it on warm days. It’s not the most scenic river, but it’s great to drift along looking at the herons and barges and it doesn’t feel like we’re in zone two of London at all! Our daughter’s middle name is Lea after the river.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I love TV and watch far too much of it. I love watching old episodes of Columbo with some Green & Black’s Butterscotch chocolate.
Name a favourite book, song or film
I have so many favourite films… I like Fargo and A Clockwork Orange and The Shining by Stanley Kubrick. I got hooked on House of Cards and The Wire but probably my favourite series is Spaced.
I love Stevie Wonder and recently paid a fortune to sit a few rows from the stage at the O2.
What is your signature dish?
I only started cooking when my daughter was born a couple of years ago and I make a mean New York cheesecake.
Do you think University of the Arts London has an important role to play in Britain’s cultural life?
Absolutely! It’s the place where most of the country’s ambitious creatives want to be and it’s a fantastic place to meet other like-minded individuals. I remember feeling like an artist for the first time in my life when one of the teachers at Central Saint Martins referred to us – first-year students – as ‘artists’, and I realised that she took us seriously and had high expectations of us. I remember feeling that anything was possible and that I was in the best place to make it happen.
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?
If you don’t have a trust fund or rich family, think about how you’re going to set yourself up so that you can afford to be a creative. It’s so hard to be an artist, especially in London which is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Many people get full-time jobs and then can’t find the time to be creative. My best advice to people is to find the best paid part-time job you can find and then find a cheap studio and try to live cheaply. Lack of finance is probably the biggest enemy to creativity. I’m saying this as someone who had to drop out of art school for a year because I couldn’t afford the fees.
Tell us more about your involvement with the Barbican’s Jean Paul Gaultier show.
I was asked to paint Jean Paul Gaultier’s muses for his touring show which is currently on at the Barbican Art Gallery. The muses include David Bowie, Beth Ditto, Madonna, Kylie and Kate Moss, and it’s been an amazing experience, especially hearing that they love their portraits! I’m looking forward to the opening in Paris next March when the exhibition goes to the Grand Palais.
Visit Annie Kevan’s website
Read more about John Paul Gaultier exhibitions in London this summer
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