An Interview with Ana Benaroya
Ana Benaroya is a young painter who is a recent graduate from the MFA program at Yale University. Her color saturated, Fauve-like paintings are a blast of loaded narratives of female-dominant sexual play and control amidst the contested reality of pervasive gender inequality, misogyny and violence directed against women. Benaroya's figures, whether in solitude, congress, or conflict, seize and seduce the gaze in equal measure.
Jiyong Sim: What is the most significant aspect of your art, and how do you define or describe your art?
Ana Benaroya: The most significant aspect of my artwork always revolves around the human body. The body and all its permutations and exaggerations are what excites me as an artist - so much emotional and physical power can be conveyed through it. I would describe my work as always figurative, darkly humorous, brightly colored, and always interested in destabilizing traditional gender roles and sexuality.
Jiyong Sim: The energy, which is spout through the strange relationship between intense and bold color, could be considered as one of the most substantial points of your painting. How do you deal with those issues in your art?
Ana Benaroya: Yes, I always think about the energy of my paintings - and the core of it is contained within the color. I've always been drawn to bright colors - the colors you see within commercial and pop culture and cartoons - even concert posters. I've always been drawn to the graphics and the bold when it comes to imagery and this is something I try and contain within my paintings. I liken the color to a loud scream. I want the painting to yell at you from across the room. What I love about this is my paintings can be louder and more aggressive than me.
Jiyong Sim: How do you consider the relationship between illustration and painting as your work?
Ana Benaroya: I was trained as an illustrator for my undergraduate education and did a lot of freelance work alongside my paintings and drawings. I see the illustration work as informing the work I now do as a "fine artist" - I put "fine artist" in quotations because I have always found the hierarchy to be strange and somewhat distasteful. My work is informed by popular culture and the imagery contained within it - so it only makes sense that I draw from illustration and comics and advertising when coming up with the concepts behind my paintings. I'm interested in the intersection of the high and low brow - and my goal is always to walk the fine line in between.
Jiyong Sim: Where do you get inspiration for your art?
Ana Benaroya: A lot of my inspiration comes from things I previously mentioned - but also from my perspective as a queer woman. I've always felt this innate anger deep inside me ever since I figured out being a woman put me at a huge disadvantage in society. I figured this out probably by middle school and it shaped my personality and my ideas as an artist. I want my paintings of woman and men to destroy the unfair power structures at play within American society - to give me and hopefully other women strength. I try to convey this through the exaggeration of the figures, through the color, and also through the humor within each work. I believe in the subversive power of humor and how those who are disadvantaged can harness it to topple the powers that be. I take pleasure in making work that on the first appearance might look funny and appealing to the eye – but upon closer examination reveals a darker more serious nature. I want my paintings to go down easy, like a pill - only for you to later realize you might get sick.
Jiyong Sim: Does your work comment upon current social or political issues? Alternatively, do you prefer to do so with your future work?
Ana Benaroya: Yes, absolutely. I go into it a bit above - but especially in today's political climate in the U.S. - I feel it is necessary to make work that comments on the atrocities currently being committed against LGBTQ individuals and women from all parts of society. I've never had a loud personality that would lend itself to activism or political work - but I can create paintings that hopefully do the work that I wish I could physically do.
Jiyong Sim: What is your intention on the expression of an exaggerated and incomplete depiction of the character to the viewer?
Ana Benaroya: For me, the human body is my playground. My figures have no bones, have no internal organs - or maybe they have too many bones and too many internal organs and too much muscle. Their boundaries are constantly changing and merging and transforming and extending into each other and the environment. Each strand of hair, each nipple, each bicep is 100% sentient and alive. The bodies I paint don't have one brain, but many brains that control and operate each segment of the body. For the viewer, I hope they begin to question the solidity of their own body and its limits.
Jiyong Sim: What is the playfulness suggesting to you?
Ana Benaroya: Playfulness is key to the way I work. As a child, I was constantly playing with action figures, imagining dialogue and storylines for each of them. My imagination was out of control - and it's something I try and hold onto with my work. All the figures in my work though inspired by the outside world, are completely from my imagination. I try and play with the figures in my work like I once did with my action figures - and I try and play with the paint in a way that adds to the story.
Jiyong Sim: What would be the next project for your art series?
Ana Benaroya: I am working on a series of paintings inspired by musicians. Each painting will involve one of the figures playing a musical instrument - adding an element of imagined sound into each painting.
BY JIYONG SIM
JIYONG IS A KOREAN-AMERICAN ARTIST BASED IN NYC