Anna Kenneally: 'I never fully know how a painting will turn out...'

Anna Kenneally is a london-based painter.

Can you tell us about the inspiration and concerns behind your art practice?

I am concerned with constructing utopian worlds, flaunting excess and opulence through figurative painting. Born from handmade collage, my paintings present the staged nature of fashion iconography, highlighting the absurdity of their original production. I aim to construct a narrative, rich in symbolism and dynamic composition. The paintings often reinvent existing works, mirroring classical compositions with a contemporary portrayal of the figure. My paintings often correct inaccurate works. A good example of this is ‘The Execution Party’. I have taken Paul Delaroche’s painting, yet recreated the scene outdoors with the facade of Tower Green. The original version is incorrect as he placed the figures within a dimly lit interior space. My intention is to form a hybrid between the historical and the contemporary, showing the evolution of an idea. Drawing these comparisons highlights shifts in depictions of women, status and also a change in approach to figurative painting. An artist having a large influence on my practice is Robin F Williams, due to her classical composition with stylised figuration. I am fascinated by individual artistic styles and how they are reproduced. These styles can be explained as habitual modes of paint application, which determine a painter’s oeuvre.


You use collage as a starting point for your paintings and I believe photography also plays a bit part on how you develop your compositions. Can you tell us a bit more about your process?

Photography has always had a big influence on the way I make my work. It allows me to manipulate composition, colour and reference sources that are important to my practice. I tend to create handmade collages as initial plans for paintings, which are then drawn from. The drawing then forms the basis for what goes on the canvas. I find that this process removes the static nature of photography from the final work, allowing it to become looser and less of a slavish copy of an existing image. The paintings strike a balance between abstraction and realism, as the initial photographic reference is transformed by the application of paint. In addition to this approach to painting, I enjoy mirroring photographic effects through the medium of oil painting. This includes painting from film, flash photography and highly pixelated images. These modes distort the subject and allow me to experiment with various techniques.


I find it interesting that you juxtapose references to existing paintings by old masters with the modern world of fashion, advertising and commercialism. Is it a reflection on how we have gone from being preoccupied with religious icons and mythology to worshipping material possessions and physical perfection?

Fashion can be seen to draw reference from art in terms of composition in elaborate magazine campaigns, textile designs and overall excess of theatrical narrative. It is this idea of excess that my work gravitates towards. I have always enjoyed painted interpretations of affluence. I am beginning to interrogate symbols of wealth, which include painting existing artworks into interior settings. I want to underpin current objects that represent both fortune and style. A good way of describing this is through my most recent large diptych. Often reminiscent of existing paintings, ‘Once upon a time in Palermo (set 1 & 2)’ reminds us of Pre Raphaelite work, April Love by Arthur Hughes. The figures depicted are divided by status. On one side we are met with detail showing flowers and fruit, reminiscent of Dutch still life paintings. The paintings themselves become objects of value, mirroring the worth of vanitas paintings. This is contrasted with brutal applications of grey tones on the opposing side of the diptych. Jagged foliage frames and emphasizes a division of status. The representation of the knights is both theatrical and humorous as traces of its fashion origin still remain.


I really enjoy you use of bold colours in your work which makes for a vibrant composition, what initially drew you to painting and to using such a colourful palette?

I am interested in borrowing not only an existing artwork, but also painting in the style of a movement such as pointillism. Colourist modes of painting can also be recognized within the work, creating depth and contrast through colour instead of tone. For example, variations of light in a painting of a tree may be determined through different shades of green, rather than lighter and darker values of a singular colour. James Jean inspires me as he sets a very specific palette for each painting. The colour choices are more intuitive when I make a painting as I think it can be a difficult thing to plan. I never fully know how a painting will turn out, be that in terms of colour or processes used.

What are you plans for the future? What’s next for your practice?

At the moment I am working full time as a painting assistant in a London studio, which I find beneficial to my own work. This work gives me separation from the studio and exposes me to new ways of creating. I am also working with new mediums such as enamel, which I am considering bringing into my own work. Recently I have experimented with down-scaling my work and painting on alternative surfaces to canvas such as paper and board. Making these changes has reinforced how important large scale is to my practice and I will return to working on a large size. I find it much more exciting as there appears to be more room for experimentation and larger gestural marks. My overall plan is to continue painting and spend as much productive time in the studio as possible!


You can find out more about Anna's work at and Instagram- @nettlepicker