Interview by Amanda Quinn Olivar, West Coast Editor
Born in Breckenridge, Colorado, Annie Terrazzo soon surrounded herself with dreams. Raised by a mother who was a schizophrenic adult entertainer and a father who was a Formula One race car driver, her childhood was unorthodox and chaotic. The chaos was countered by a large family who, through silver-smithing and plein air painting, taught her the value of--and method to--making beauty in the world. She spent large portions of her time writing plays on an old typewriter, watching movies, and dreaming of Paris.
After graduating from the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Terrazzo began her career in trash portraiture, focusing on using found objects, newspapers, and magazines. She strives to create work that allows the viewer to recognize image and text-based language, drawing viewers in through technical skill and an attention to detail which permeates all of her work.
Terrazzo has exhibited locally and internationally, with solo shows in Los Angeles, London, and Miami, and her work resides in several permanent collections across the United States.
Amanda Quinn Olivar (AQO): You’re known for mixed media, or as you say, “trash” collage portraiture. What does that mean? What led you on this adventure in trash!
Annie Terrazzo (AT): I have always loved working with found objects. There is something incredibly exciting to me about finding things and letting them inspire me. It’s seductive to me, really. When I was a kid, about ten years old, I found myself going to thrift stores, getting old fashion magazines, and cutting them up for art projects. I’d draw all these weird things on the models’ faces and put it all together on a poster board. I look back on it now, and my best guess as to why is that I was trying to look at the version of reality I saw in the magazines, and I didn’t see anyone going through what I was, so I made them more me. After art school I was using a lot of broken glass, wire, glue, letters and such. This developed into my use of all sorts of strange and wonderful things I’d collect as use, into the art. Primarily now I just use newspaper and magazines as my trash base, but have gotten back into using other objects again, outside of the paper realm.
AQO: What is the most unconventional material you've worked with?
AT: I used a crack pipe. I had to go pick up my friend’s mail at his place off Mateo--what now is the most amazing apartment building--in the Arts District. It wasn’t the arts district then though… it was pretty rough! When I went to get the mail from the communal row of mailboxes, I saw a large manila envelope with the writing "Dear Crackhead" on it. How could you not open that?? Inside the envelope was a letter and a crack pipe. I took my friend’s mail and the envelope and ran out of the apartment building. Safely in the car I opened the letter and it was nothing like this. “Dear Crackhead my kids found your crack pipe by my car in the parking garage. How dare you do this by my car and you are a degenerate, don’t ever… If I ever see you, you’ll be in big trouble... etc, etc.” But the funny bit was that she was giving the pipe back to the crackhead. I took it home and made art. I wish I had a picture of that work, but I put it up in the I-5 gallery before taking a photo, and it sold to an optometrist.
AQO: Do you work from memory, life, photographs, or from other resources?
AT: I’m always looking at people, no matter where I go. I’ll see a shade of lipstick or hair that I like, and put it in the brain box. I take photos of myself for reference sometimes, or have a model. I enjoy having models as subjects, as it allows me to take my ideas outside of myself. This was for my piece The Internet, where I used actors to play emoji characters and act in a scene for me to draw...
AQO: Can you talk about the significance of materials and technique? Does color play a role? Music?
AT: This year I was very inspired by colors as feelings. I wanted to be able to express myself without words in the art, as I have relied on them so heavily in the past. I have also been working more with paint and pastels, and intertwining that with my drawings. Music is a huge part of the work and my process. I find that I must have music when I work, because I can think about the music rather than the drawing. I don’t ever like to think about what I’m doing; it’s like a daydream when I’m in my studio. This year I’ve tried to also have silent times as well when working, especially if I’m on something that needs to be minimal.
AQO: Do spontaneity and experimentation impact your process? Or, do you plan everything out?
AT: With a series, I like to plan out what each work will be. I jot down all my thoughts, color choices, and words I’d like to incorporate. Sometimes I’ll test out, sketch, work small then larger, but sometimes I like to just go for it. If I do plan, it rarely stays true to its original form, as some of my ideas look stupid in real life. Since my art is usually drawn from what I feel at the time, it can change with the wind, and I have to allow that.
AQO: Is your art more of a physical process, or is there a narrative exploration… or both?
AT: I would say it is narrative. I’ve always fancied myself to be a storyteller in my art. I like to think that I’m making a movie when creating art, and I am writing, producing, directing the show. The people I draw are telling the story of the words I use or the colors I see. This is a great example of my narrative. I had all these vintage soft-core porn images from the ‘50s, and I wanted to make a statement about the internet and women:
AQO: Are there common themes or messages which carry across your different series?
AT: I think there have been core questions I’ve been asking in my work for years. I primarily have been drawing and painting females, but have broadened my reach to include men and objects. But, the underlying idea within all my work is communication. How we speak to ourselves and to others about who we are, where we come from, and how we feel. Social media has been something I have been very quick to comment on in my work, as it is probably the worst form of communication, or at least brings out the worst in people.
AQO: In a 2017 BBC Interview, you stated: “I’ve always desired to depict strong, bad-ass women who would push through the system and overcome the hardships at hand”. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
AT: Yes, that interview was done the day Trump was inaugurated. I’ve never wanted the girls that I draw to feel like the victim, although sometimes they are, but in victimized situations. Earlier work of mine makes me think that I was placating a certain stereotype, but that was who I was, and that was how the world looked like to me. If you compare my 2014 work It Looks Like Plastic to last year’s See What I See (2017), there is a big difference. I think I am changing as the world changes.
My stance now is that I can’t draw a sexy vulnerable girl, as that’s not what I want to project. I want to make bad-ass women that will take over the world, as that is what I want to be.
AQO: You were born in Breckenridge, Colorado... how did you wind up in Los Angeles, where you have established your career?
AT: My godfather and family lived out here, and he has always been like a father to me. He said it was beautiful and sunny here, and he’d keep an eye on me. So after school, in 2002, I came to LA. Art went on the back burner for a while, when I caught the acting bug. I worked the drama for a while, but realized that all I wanted from acting was to play Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, and didn’t really want to do anything else. Since I was only about 22, then I thought maybe I’d have to wait on that. I’m actually still hoping for that moment though…
There was a small gallery, Zombie Joe’s Gallery in the NoHo arts district, in the lobby of one of the theaters where I was acting (not in Streetcar, sadly), and they were looking for art to display and I just thought: wow. I want to do art again. I sold four works, the first night the work was put up in that theatre lobby. The rest... history.
AQO: Let’s talk about the path of your life and career. How did it all start? Is your story represented in your work? Does your work parallel your life?
AT: My family is very creative. My aunt Nini is an incredibly talented plein air artist, who I have always admired. Aunt Mary owns a silversmith shop called Gusterman’s in Larimer Square, Denver. She was the first person to teach me how to draw a face. In my grandparents’ living room, there was a painting that my Aunt Mary made when she was in the arts program at university. It was probably the most impacting work of art for me, from my childhood, as I would just sit and stare at it for hours.
I think something happened to me when I was a teenager, where I found myself in a position that made me unable to tell people about my life and who I was. There was a lot of shame around me, and I had a hard time communicating with others. I thought, at the time, that when I left home, all of it would stop, and I’d be free, and life would be really cool. That didn’t happen, but I had my art and could always communicate through my work.
I moved into The Brewery around 2005, and started doing shows there and all over Los Angeles, selling about seventy works a year. When my art was successful and selling I was elated, and when it wasn’t I was distraught, as it was really that personal. Around 2008, I decided to move from The Brewery to London and threw away all my art supplies in the trash, giving it all up... That lasted three days. The idea to use newspaper as the canvas came to me after getting off a plane at Heathrow and taking the tube into London after rush hour. Everyone had discarded their papers on the floor of the train; there must have been two hundred of them strewn about. That was my first introduction to England, and I thought it would be a great way to get free art supplies. I'm all about cheap art supplies. But it took me a while to find the right process to make the work I make now. I had to find the right glue to make the paper heat, humidity, and light resistant, so it wouldn't lose color and shape.
Through the last five years, I’ve been working on bettering myself and being less afraid of expressing who I am. The work has changed as I have, and I feel the more I go in the direction of truth and honesty, bravery and compassion, that my work becomes richer and more interesting... I’m not making the art I think I should or the art that I think people want to see from me; I am just making what I see.
AQO: Was there a specific moment or impetus that led to your current series?
AT: This year, 2018, has been a rocky road, even though it is just the beginning. For the first time in my life, I have been physically incapacitated due to an injury. I’ve been in astounding pain and it has affected my body and my brain. The injury is a pinched nerve in my neck, and I feel it has greatly changed the way I move, draw and think. The first two weeks were the worst and that’s when I had to start working on this new show, and I couldn’t even pick up my phone with my hands. My brain was cloudy and I had trouble remembering simple tasks. The worst was that I couldn’t even talk without it hurting, and I lost the ability to communicate in the usual ways. When I was able to start working again, my thought went to that time and I made Lines. Lines is directly focusing on the body alignment and the struggle of when you can't see clearing, due to your body. There are a few more works in that vein as well--as I continued to work although still suffering from the nerve--which include Wildflowers, Weight of Balance and I’m still trying to wake up.
AT: The current state of the world is and will always be something I like to discuss in my work as well. Right now it feels like there is more anger than solidarity, or there is just solidarity in anger. And not to go into too much detail, but I had a #metoo moment, and I too was angry and sad at the stupid things men do and say to women, which resulted in Say What? and I Can’t Remember. I also had a deeply reflective period last year, which made me want to re-think some of my old work and also bring some of the found object ideas I had a while back. I’m still trying to wake up is actually a painting from last year that I basically mutilated. Do I Dare Disturb The Universe was made using shards of safety glass that I accidentally acquired. I entitled my series Riots and Cheap Thrills.
AQO: What projects and exhibitions are you planning now?
AT: The Other Art Fair begins March 15th and runs to the 18th in Downtown LA. I will have sixteen new works of art up in my booth. I have a show at Substrate Gallery, opening April 27th, entitled Introspect. The show has a political theme and is hosted by Asymmetric Magazine. I will have four new works on exhibition.
I'm also in an extraordinary exhibition curated by Melanie Johanson at the Cornell Art Museum in Delray Beach, Florida, alongside artists such as Miya Ando, Andy Warhol, and Damien Hirst. The show opens March 29th, and I will have two works on display until October.
AQO: What is inspiring you right now?
AT: One thing that has inspired me lately is that I have been working on a web project that will be launched this summer, called Just A Moment. Just A Moment is a visual compendium showcasing one specific part of the city of Los Angeles in each issue, offering a day-in-the-life perspective for locals and travelers alike. The website will include video content, as well a series of articles featuring local artists, musicians, shopping and restaurants. It’s nice to get out of the studio and meet people, also flex my directing and photography muscles.
The web series will be up at www.justamoment.in in June, and the first edition will be 24 Hours in Venice.
Other inspirations include:
- Loving Vincent (film)
- The Assassination of Gianni Versace (TV show)
- Final Space (TV show)
- Angel Olsen (musician)
- Vulfpeck (musicians)
- A Boogie wit da Hoodie (musician)
- Brandi Carlile (musician)
- Russian Avante Garde FIlm Posters
- Ingrid Goes West (film)
- My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (graphic novel) by Emil Ferris
- Anna Matykiewicz (artist)
- Anna Hymas (artist)
- Ryan Hewett (artist)
- Chad Wys (artist)
- Hamilton (musical)
- The Secret Life of Color (book) by Kassia St Clair
AQO: What is your favorite art accident?
AT: I was working on a piece of art, when my father passed away suddenly. I didn’t get to finish it, as I had to go to Colorado to sort things out. When I came home I looked at it, and the man I had drawn was crooked, ruining the work. It was awful and I had worked really hard on it! In a rage, I ripped it all up and threw it out the window. It sat in a heap of paper outside my studio doorway and I refused to pick it up for like a week. It was going to rain one day and so I thought I had to go clean up my mess before it got wet and gross and when I looked at the image all ripped up and crumpled, I thought it was really interesting. I went back to work on it and it just kind of happened. I really created a thing that was different, exciting and exploratory for me. I had always tried to make everything look perfect, and in this work, I was doing the opposite on purpose. And it wasn’t something that could ever be recreated again. In my mind, I was putting myself back together too. I really liked the piece when I finished it, and it always makes me think about what was going on in my life, but there is a feeling of accomplishment rather than grief. The work is Sitting Smoking Watching Reading.
Feature Image: Anne Terrazzo in studio.
All images: courtesy of the artist.