Ahead of her first solo exhibition this Friday, we spoke with artist Annabelle Mannings on process, art and her four cats.

Thanks for taking the time to chat to CHYA, how are you and how are things progressing for the show opening this Friday?

I’m excited! I have finished all the works, they are all dropped off and I’m looking forward to seeing everything come together at the end of this week. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to help set up as I’m working, but I know Amber is doing a wonderful job.

How did you come into contact with Courthouse and running an exhibition there?

One of my friends is set up to show with Courthouse next year and she told me to send my work through to Amber and see if Courthouse would be interested in working with me. They said yes! I was stoked, as this is going to be my first solo show. Back in 2014 I had a brief conversation with the curator at the time about showing with them after she saw my work at The Gordon’s end of year show, but little 18-year-old Annabelle was a bit too shy to follow that up. I finally got the guts this time around!

This is your first solo show as well, what made this the right time to take the next step in exhibiting?

I can’t really see a future for myself that doesn’t involve me being an artist. Part of having a successful career as an artist is marketing yourself and getting your name out there and networking — gallery shows are a great opportunity for that. That, and being able to say I have exhibited in a gallery is something that excited me. It feels like a step in the right direction. I’ve had some time to settle in to life as a “grown up” now, having moved out of home about three years ago, and I feel like I’m coming in to my own. It’s time to move forward with my goals as an artist.

Has there been anything you’ve learnt so far in the process of preparing for the show? Was the prep what you thought it would be?

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind year this year so I actually didn’t feel I got as much done for it as I would have liked. The main thing I have learned is that as an artist what I really enjoy is the learning. It is the constant challenge of refining my skill set and learning everything I can about colour theory, painting techniques and foundational things like anatomy and capturing light and atmosphere that I love. All I want to do is get better. That is what drives me.

Honestly, most of the work you see in this show are practice pieces to me. They’re experimentation. I feel like I am going to be “practicing” for years before I reach a point where I feel like I can execute the work I truly want to be making. I’ve also learnt that there is a difference between the things that inspire me and things that I actually want to paint. I might look at another artist’s painting and find it incredibly inspiring, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that if I was to complete that painting myself and step back from my canvas, that I would feel satisfied. There’s a couple of pieces in this show that I stepped back from and thought, ‘Hmmm, it’s a good painting, but I don’t like it’. They didn’t resonate with me. This is a new concept for me so I’m still wrapping my head around it. Watch this space!

In the past you seem to have focused a lot more on landscape works, what sparked the change for this exhibition and how have you found the transition in creating an exhibition around a series portraits?

I started painting landscapes years ago when I was sick and my parents bought me a DVD set of landscape painting lessons by the artist Tim Gagnon. So I learnt to paint by painting landscapes. This exhibition is mainly landscapes, with four portraits. Painting portraits is a totally different experience to painting landscapes. I’m still painting both subjects, and I want to paint both subjects to a high standard. I’ve always drawn faces, so I guess it was just natural for that to eventually find its way into my painting!

When painting people and portraits is it important for you to have a connection with the subject? What’s the decision process in choosing the photo to work from?

I think having a connection to your subject is very important, and I do have that in most of my landscape paintings. At the moment my portrait painting is solely based on learning the mechanics of painting portraits. My motivation behind the subject in each portrait painting is solely on finding a good reference for me to study, so that I can learn to paint portraits effectively and to a level of skill that I am happy with. The choice is based mainly on the light and shadow patterns on the face and making sure they represent the structure of the head in a way that will translate well in to paint.

Johannes Vermeer is a major influence on me in my portrait painting, and I have been using more traditional methods of painting by using a grisaille (a black and white underpainting) and then working the colour over that. I don’t have any great connection to my subjects in these portraits for this reason – I’m still just learning the skill. That being said, the painting titled “Of Troy” is of a girl that I have been friends with since the start of primary school, so I do have more of a connection to that one! I have some big ideas for figurative works in the future, but for them to have the impact I want them to have I need to be able to render a figure believably, and for that to happen I need a solid understanding of anatomy and colour theory. Both of these things I am slowly learning through all these different processes that I am playing with.

On your website you confess to wanting to “master fine art”. Do you see that goal in sight and how do you think you’ll know when you have mastered it?

Now this is a question I’ve had a few times and I find it hard to answer. The first step is having a really good understanding of anatomy, perspective, colour theory, etcetera. The only way I can answer this question effectively is to ask people to go and look at paintings and drawings by Johannes Vermeer, Janhendrik Dolsma, Andrew Tischler, Stephen Bauman and Roberto Ferri. These artists all have a certain mastery of their skill and a deep unsterstanding of the subjects I mentioned. Yet I can probably guarantee that none of these guys really feel like they’ve mastered their skill—they themselves are still always learning. Their work is certainly of a very sophisticated level, and provide what feels like a lofty but exciting goal post for me!

We read you have four cats as well, have they ever/will they ever feature in your art (aside from their fluff!)?

Haha! Well, I’ve been planning to do some sketches of them to practice studying from life. So maybe! At the moment, it’s just their fluff. They certainly do like to make their presence known in my studio.

Do you remember your first experience with art and creating and what that was?

This is a hard one! I have this book from kindergarten that is full of random artworks and stories that I made when I was little. The teachers collected them all and put them all in a folder that I decorated. I don’t remember painting any of them, but it was a pretty serious indicator of what I was going to end up being passionate about. All the pictures of me at kindergarten involve me covered in paint (or drooling, but let’s not talk about that). The first drawing I actually remember doing was a horse that I drew in prep – which is so typical of a little girl – and I remember all of my classmates being properly impressed! Who knows, maybe horses will pop up in my work at some stage.

Annabelle Mannings’ exhibition ‘Thrill of the Chase’ opens on Friday, August 17 with a launch from 6-8pm and runs until September 14. To RSVP and find out more event information head here. You can follow Annabelle on Instagram and Facebook or visit her website.

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All images via Annabelle Mannings’ socials.