Works of Heart: Ansley Givhan
When everyone around us, in life or just on Instagram, seems to be striving for perfection, it’s refreshing to see someone embodying imperfection. Embracing the clutter. Enter: artist Ansley Givhan. There is a certain self-assurance — a calm, grounded presence — that you immediately feel upon meeting her. Ansley’s abstract work is raw and honest, allowing you to sense what she was seeing or feeling in a specific moment on each canvas. Her home is a reflection of her work, with heartfelt notes scribbled onto the wall, minimal furniture, piles of books, and paint tubes strewn about. We think she could teach us all a little bit about the art of discovering oneself, doing something just for you, and embracing exactly who you are, unashamed, mess and all. — Ashley O’Neill, Editorial Contributor.
Abstract art is so subjective. When someone sees your work, how do you want them to feel?
That’s a really hard question. There’s lots of things that I put in my work that is familiar to people who might be unfamiliar with abstraction, like a horizon line, a leaf, or a familiar animal, to ground that person or for them to be able to see how it relates to the natural world — it all does. It’s just shapes deconstructed to form different environments. When you learn how to break down what you’re looking at and simplify, you’re able to see abstraction better. It’s about playing mind games, how the mind pieces together things, but using as little information as possible. I like to paint from observation, just because I find that you lose the whole spirit of being with the subject or painting that object and what it means when you’re just looking at a photograph or an image. In life you can move things around, use invention, and make things different colors to show the way you see them.
Besides your environment, does anything else influence your work?
A lot of things do. All the paintings are different. There’s a painting about being distracted. There’s a painting about stick n’ poke tattoos. There’s a painting about the female form. There’s a painting about hot, humid New Orleans. It seems theoretically like it doesn't make sense but that’s kind of the point. I jump around a lot with what I make and I just do what I want, I don’t worry as much about how it’s all going to come together.
It’s so powerful — I feel people think you have to be this thing when they think about art or artists. It seems, with you and your spirit, that you’re going to make a painting about stick n’ poke tattoos and that’s just what it’s about. Whereas some people might think that’s trivial or you might doubt yourself and stop yourself from painting something about tattoos. That fact doesn’t devalue the piece at all.
Right, yeah. I really just paint for me. I just paint because it makes me happy, and I don’t let outward forces take control of what I’m making. This is something I have full control over and that’s very important to me.
You went to college not knowing you were going to be an artist.
I didn’t start painting until I got to college, probably my second semester. I was a psychology major. The second semester my freshman year, I took an art class and just sort-of had a knack for it. Gradually I started taking more classes but I didn’t really become serious about painting until like, 2 years ago. Painting every day, I mean.
That’s so interesting. I know we’ve talked about this before, but the art of discovering yourself and figuring out your passion or craft — how some people discover it later — I think everyone is searching for that thing that’s inside them. I know it took practice, but you’re so talented and this is so obviously within you.
I think I just love to paint. Truly, I would paint over anything else. It just comes first to me.
Because you love it?
Because I just...keep painting. I don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to come, I just do.
When did that switch flip? Did you feel this movement in your life or did it happen gradually?
It sort-of started and became an obsessive-compulsive thing, in a great way. When I moved to New Orleans, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I didn’t think I was going to be a painter. I didn’t work consistently then, and I was looking for a job at the time. I had this little studio space and I just started painting. I was lonely; I had moved to an unfamiliar place and didn’t know a lot of people, so i just painted. It made me so happy and so fulfilled and so satisfied to create these things. It just became something I needed to do for myself. It’s like, you know, loving yourself. And I have a relationship with myself through painting. It’s my outlet — how I stay even and balanced — I just paint it out.