Meet the Artist Who Spins Your Trashiest Nights Out into Irreverent Drawings
Anouk Colantoni is a down-to-earth Australian artist who talks a mile a minute and rocks truly envy-inducing ruby red lipstick and matching nails. Besides drawing graphic portraits of NYC’s classic characters, she also happens to be an excellent advisor on dating and life—as under-qualified as she considers herself to be. We met up with her at the Wallplay Shop on the Bowery, where she’s currently exhibiting a cluster of drawings, in a series titled “Safety in Numbers.”
The oldest drawing in the exhibition, which she made only a year and a half ago (and there are a lot of drawings—Colantoni is pretty prolific), is a picture of an old couple lumped on a couch sipping beer and smoking like chimneys, with the caption “Connection is Real.” It represents a lot of the themes in Colantoni’s work: blunt humor, playfulness, and a hint of sexuality. Whether it’s a doodle of an old couple being couch potatoes with their legs spread wide, or a drawing of a femme fatal taking a nude selfie, all of her illustrations are eerily relatable. Everywhere I looked, I found sincere, exposed, depressing, and simultaneously hilarious works.
Colantoni also created an illustrated series for Milk called NYC: WTF?, detailing the misadventures of a downtown “It” girl. The drawings revolve around a character named Yolanda (AKA Yolo), and take you through the secret life of this 20-something girl’s ups and downs in the glorified mess we call New York City. It’s like Sex and the City, in comic book form, and the drawings are all too real.
Colantoni uses her graphic drawings to tackle inner conflict, release stress, and to capture those moments and emotions that people often find hardest to reveal. Her doodles are graphic and incredibly vulnerable, but that’s what makes them so brilliant; her work inspires conversations most people feel too embarrassed or scared to acknowledge. As Colantoni graciously drew us a one-of-a-kind picture, we chatted about her illustrations and how they’ve contributed to her artistic growth in the city, in addition to dating apps, the standard of perfect, and NYC hot spots—one of which was home to an incidental run-in with Justin Bieber.
Your drawings are wild. Are any of them based on true events?
Well, a lot of it is something that has happened to me, or a version of things that have happened to my friends. They’re made-up characters with real stories. I guess that they’re a way of processing stuff that’s going on. But like I said, [what I’m drawing] came out of me five minutes ago. Who the fuck knows where from? That’s the kind of shit that I talk about with my girlfriends.
When did you set up the show? How was that?
On Wednesday a whole lot of my amazing friends came and helped me put this together. We ended up having a big opening party and it turned out to be ridiculous and amazing. I’m still recovering from the whole thing. It was so intense and wonderful to have everyone turn up and have this moment. [The drawings are something] that came out of me without really having to try. So I didn’t think it was valid for a long time. It just started coming out. It wasn’t something I studied and it wasn’t something I had worked towards consciously. It just started doing it for me.
That sounds so natural.
That’s the thing. There’s a lot of things here about forcing and change and grow[th]. I moved here five years ago and I’ve kind of made up everything on the way. I guess not filling my time and space with everything and feeling a little lost brought about this need to talk about things that really made me embarrassed and scared and look like I lost my shit—to realize everyone else felt the same way. There was a part of me that wanted to be perfect.
“Everyone thinks there are all these valid forms that are going to make them safe and acceptable. Like, acceptable to whom?”
What’s funny is that everyone is really just doing a good job at pretending to be perfect or to have their shit together.
Is there even such a thing? It destroys you trying to be something you’re not. But God, it brings out some funny fucking times. There’s no sense of being too cool in this room. I think there’s a lot of making fun of myself—like gentle fun.
Can you tell me a little about the idea behind “Safety in Numbers”?
The idea of “Safety in Number” was—[and you can see it in] the way that I curated the whole room—everything is sort of an organized cluster. Everything is an equal number. Everyone in here and everyone in the world is trying to find their people or their moment. Everyone finds safety in how many followers you have on Instagram, which makes you cool, which makes you relevant, which makes you safe. Or how much money do you make? And if you make a lot of money, you’re safe. Everyone thinks there are all these valid forms that are going to make them safe and acceptable. Like, acceptable to whom? Again, that’s also the joke. Like, whom do we try to be so acceptable for? Also, my artwork has a colorful and jovial sense to them, even if they’re really dark images. I think a part of me plays on that because that’s naturally what I’m drawn to, and I [like to] play with color and feeling.
I love how you completely abandon censoring the female body in your drawings.
There’s a big discussion about sexuality in here, but it’s not always about having sex. It’s about processing identity to sexuality to strength and power and there’s a lot of humor in it too. I’ve had my moments struggling with emotional issues and times where I don’t feel good and a lot of my power has come from being playful and sexy.
[People] assume that it’s actually about having sex. It’s not. It’s just a discussion with where I’m at in my life with my friends.
When did you realize these sort of drawings would be your “thing”?
I didn’t know I was making all these social commentaries and miniature comics or whatever you want to call them—these little universes. Right now, I’m still obsessed with anime, animation, Studio Ghibli, and children’s films. A huge amount of the composition is from my childhood and [the idea of] allowing myself to show people what I actually like even if it’s not fucking cool. I guess there was some part of me that needed to be heard in a way. I didn’t even know that I was processing my own shit through it. And then to have people start to relate to it was really fun and wild. I mean I had a lot of people be like, “There is something wrong with you.”
Well, you know that? I’m breaking down [the] idea that I had of perfection and there’s no one that’s perfect. I mean, I’m going through phases in my life of understanding what that means.
I don’t think anyone actually likes things that are perfect. People want to hate perfect.
They do! And also that’s what’s so strange. That’s what this pressure is. What is perfection? I don’t know and I’m trying to throw it out of my life.
Some of your drawings depict characters using a dating apps. Are you on Tinder or any of the others?
Obviously, Yolanda [uses dating apps]. I’m really not the one to know about dating. I’m not certain I know.
Well, you must know all the hot spots in the city. Where do you go out?
I go to lots of bars. I go out for drinks at my friend’s restaurant Dudley’s, I’ll go to Forget Me Not, or Bacaro. I used to go to Black Market all the time. I love Hotel Delmano. Loosie Rouge is great. I’ve had some very interesting and funny conversations about that place. I’m trying to stick to places that have nice drinks. I like the Commodore, but that frozen Piña Colada—that shit is giving me arthritis. That shit has sugar and I’m a fucking kid. Don’t give me anything with an umbrella in it.
I heard that you also like the Russian and Turkish Baths in the East Village, which I’m all about too.
That place is hilarious. I actually ended up at the Aire Ancient Baths in Tribeca. It’s really fancy and very sexy. I was in this bathhouse with a person who I thought was Justin Bieber, but it really was.
You were in a bathhouse with Justin Bieber?!
It was just me and my girlfriend. The whole thing ended up being hilarious. There were hundreds of screaming people outside and I was just like, “Oh what’s going on out there?” And then he walks out and I was like, “God, that guy thinks he’s Justin Bieber.” And it was. He’s [there] all the time. My friend and I were like, “Oh, that’s fucking great.” So, I like to relax with my casual friends, you know, the Biebs.
So it’s been five years since you moved to New York. What initially brought you to the city?
I needed an adventure. To be honest, I kind of burnt out at 26. I was having a bit of a life crisis. I got to a place in Australia and I didn’t like it. I wasn’t happy. I came here and I ended up going through a lot of fucking ups and downs. I started to go, “Okay, well this city is a catalyst for my honesty.” If I hadn’t gone through all of that and tried to still be perfect, I’d probably [never have tried] to do whatever it was that I was doing. I’m just a lot more trusting—you gotta trust. If I’m going to be shit-scared doing things I hate, I might as well be shit-scared doing things I fucking love.
“Safety In Numbers” will be on display at Wallplay Shop until May 20th.
Find more of Colantoni’s Yolanda series here.
All illustrations by Anouk Colantoni.
Video and photography by Kathryn Chadason.
Music by Visuals
Stay tuned to Milk for more irreverent illustrations.