In the Studio with Anna Xhaard

In the studio with Anna Xhaard, whose practice explores concepts of dreamscape, colour, and the strange journey of memories. We met with Anna to tell us more about growing up in Paris, unexpected sources of inspiration, and what event had mobilized change through her practice.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

Since I was a child I draw and paint. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t draw. In kindergarten I had participated in a drawing competition at the town hall of Paris and I had won a prize. I had drawn the Avenue des Champs Élysées at night, on black paper, with white chalk and in color. I remember having already at that time the desire to be an artist. I already had this very strong feeling of wanting to express myself on paper. This thirst to do something special, something beautiful, something that touches others and tells a story. This feeling never left me.

 Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?

 I come from Paris, France. With my mother and my sister, we went to the cinema a lot, we watched lots of films of all kinds at home. They weren’t necessarily my age, but it certainly increased my imagination! We also went to museums a lot, to see exhibitions, we wandered around the city a lot in Paris. With my family we traveled a lot, I saw landscapes and discovered extraordinary cities quite young. All this accentuated my taste for observation that I already had from childhood, a curiosity, a desire to discover. I can observe something for a very long time and marvel at a little nothing. I was brought up in the discipline of having to work a lot. To always have to do better, to give more. I kept this ability to be able to work for a long time, without giving up even if it is a little excessive sometimes. I think these young experiences fueled my frenzy of wanting to create.

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work?

After the classes in which I was deeply bored, I went to painting workshops, I needed to exteriorize! I couldn’t wait to finish school to start studying what really interested me, art! I wanted to do fine arts but the prospects for work after studies were reduced, so I went to a school of art and graphic design in Paris, Peninghen. It was a joy to be able to draw in class all day! School was very difficult and required titanic work. We chained sleepless nights to make meticulous projects. Fortunately I had good school friends with whom I could spend my nights on my drawing boards! After 3 years, the courses were more about advertising and graphics, I didn’t like all this rigidity. After the license I changed school to go to L’ecv Paris, where I was able to do illustration and have a master’s degree. I did an internship in my teacher’s agency where I drew my first illustrator project for the brand Wool and the gang. It was an incredible experience but I didn’t want to work in an agency, I needed freedom. After my master’s degree, I started freelancing. I started doing a lot of painting for individuals, restaurants and illustration for brands. It was very difficult to find work. I needed to find energy elsewhere, so when my sister started a band, I learned bass and started playing with them! For 7 years I alternated between music, painting which I often exhibited in concert halls and small food jobs. It was an amazing time! When we draw or paint we are often alone for long hours! Even if I love this meditative solitude, this experience in music allowed me to exchange soul to soul with other artists, to create something powerful together. But one day I felt a lack in my artistic creation. I had a visceral need to return to my pencils and brushes to devote myself to who I really am. So I left this period behind me without any regrets to devote myself to my work as an artist and illustrator. I worked for a few years for an agency as an art director and illustrator, and I continued to paint and do exhibitions on the side. Today, I am freelance, I can organize my work as I wish. I am preparing an exhibition and I have just finished an editorial project that I wrote and illustrated. I feel today that my work as an artist and an illustrator are linked more than ever to become one. This is what I have always been looking for I believe, to be able to devote myself fully to creation, I imagine that I am on the right track! 🙂

What’s the message of your work? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

 My ideas are most often born in my dreams. Like a dream, my work has different levels of reading. My gesture is instinctive and often abstract line translates the reminiscences of the dream. Figurative elements are the tangible memories that are part of the composition. My personal experience is essential, because in this expanded universe of forms and subjects in which I travel, I explore the themes that define me and lead me to question my surroundings. These themes visit our women’s bodies, our status and our history. They cross society and its mores, our future, the link between living beings and nature, and more generally our link to the Earth. They focus on spirituality and the world beyond the visible. As in a vast breath, I travel between my inner visions and the outer universe, sharing my view of our world.

Who/what are your greatest influences?  

I like to travel a lot, to discover new places, it inspires me and influences me enormously in my work. I like to go to museums, to draw, make research or to see exhibitions. Music inspires me and influences me during my working process. Sounds help me navigate my universe, jazz, classical, rock. I did a lot of classical dance and I love it. Movement, expression through gesture, all of this is part of me and my work today. I really like to immerse myself in fantasy novels. From the Wizard of Oz of my childhood to Lewis Caroll, storytelling inspires me and their worlds influence my work. I admire the talent, the freedom and the strength of the artists Niki de Saint Phalle, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’keefe, Patti smith, as much in their art as in their personalities which fascinate me.

An unexpected source of inspiration?

My greatest source of inspiration is my dreams! Since childhood my dreams have seemed so real to me that I sometimes doubt that I only dreamed them. Their colors, their shapes and the stories that take place there leave me on waking a powerful, sometimes overwhelming memory of the journey accomplished during sleep. Dreams fascinate me, but their intensity gives me the need to express them, to free myself from them. In my dream diary, I write them down, draw them to study them, I try to understand them. They are an open door to my unconscious, the source of my ideas and my inspiration. I receive in my sleep, the visions of my moods. If dreams are the mirror of our unconscious, then I like to think that my intuitions are free and powerful there, just like our senses which absorb the energies of the world.

What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?

I don’t really think about the public, I’m too caught up in my creativity. I am in the present moment, I create with my mind but I let myself be guided by my intuition, by a natural instinct that relates to colors and shapes. It’s all my energy, my body, my unconscious, working, almost like in a trance! I hope to transmit to the viewer this surge of vibration, energy and emotion that pierces me when I create. My paintings are an introspective journey, but I tell them emotions, universal questions. The quest for self, our place in society, our link with nature, our relationship to the body, human relationships, loneliness, memories. Subjects that concern me but are also specific to each person.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you experiment?

The material I use greatly influences my creative period. I use to take a lot of pictures, I did art video, scenographie. I paint and draw on walls, on clothes. Even if I always tell the same things on different supports, the format, the medium and the technique change the aesthetics of my creation and guide me to new ideas. For a long time I worked in black and white and in watercolor in order to be able to move more easily with my material, to be able to create quickly in my notebooks and my dream journals. The work in Indian ink and pen allowed me to experiment with calligraphy, to deepen my drawing technique. To learn to convey poetry through contrast, movement and composition. A few years ago, when I had more time to work on painting, thanks to color, my outlook changed a lot. The gouache, the acrylic and finally the oil that I used more recently takes me into a subtle universe that allows me to transmit something other. The color in my painting is like a therapeutic balm. It allows me to give another dimension to my work, to lead me into a new reflection. The drying time, and all the constraints of the painting allow me to have a more calm, more thoughtful rhythm. I make more sketches before starting a canvas, I do color research. For my last exhibition in September 2021, I needed to convey color to contrast with the dark and difficult period the world is going through. This does not prevent me from returning to black and white for other projects such as the oracle game that I have just finished. I like to experiment a lot because I find new ways of saying things and I like that a lot.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

The ideal condition for me is to be quiet, in a bright place, with enough space to spread out my sketches and take out all my equipment! I need to enter my bubble to concentrate. When I start a project, in the morning in general I write a lot about it. When work is well advanced and I know what to do, I love listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks. It helps me stay focused for long hours.

Tell us about the inspiration behind one of your  works?

 In Garden I wanted to tell about my need to reconnect with the essentials. The world has recently changed and this transformation has hit me hard. Like an accelerator of destiny, I felt an urgent need to reconnect to myself and to the living, to simply breathe. In our societies we are forced to remain seated, to wait for time to pass, on our chairs, our sofas. My characters express the need for movement, the need to take their lives in hand, to act and to fully live each moment. To reconnect with your inner self, instincts and deep desires. Do not wait passively for time to pass, for things to happen by themselves and for others to decide who they are for them.

Something in the future you hope to explore?

I would love to be able to work bigger. I would also like to do installations, things in volume. Take up more space.