The Restless Life and Talent of Anika Manuel
Anika Manuel, 24, is a professional artist specialising in portraits, based in St Austel, Cornwall.
Having always had an interest in faces, Anika began copying faces from photographs and magazines as a child. Since completing her degree at the internationally renowned Chelsea College of Art and Design, Anika has exhibited her art across the UK and was one of 12 artists chosed to take part in 20:12, an exhibition celebrating the Olympic Games.
Youth Arts Online gets the chance to ask Anika about her talent and journey in the art industry.
What is your process of painting a portrait?
In the beginning inspiration comes from one image that stirs some sort of emotion in me. I’ll happen upon it by chance, and instantly think, this should be a painting. I constantly display feelings of restlessness with my images. The speed at which I paint is reliant on the excitement I have for an image, as soon as that immediate reaction fades, it becomes important for me to move on to another idea; the immediacy of acrylic paint as a material lends itself to this consistent progression.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
What challenges me is the decision making needed with any portrait, you have to constantly be finding and solving your own problems; does it need a plain background or patterned one, what am I trying to say with this, what am I going to title this piece, does the image work….and ultimately will the viewer find this person as interesting as I do?
What was your most challenging piece of work and why?
To date my most challenging piece was my self portrait. I found it almost impossible to find an image of myself I was happy to focus all my attention on, and having the confidence to put yourself out there, on a canvas for all to see can be difficult, I much prefer using images of other people!
What led you to start experimenting with slate? What are the challenges and delights of working with slate?
I began using slate as an experiment at Chelsea. Canvas was becoming expensive, and I had all of this slate around me at home in Cornwall. I tried it one day, painting an image of myself asleep as a child directly onto the rock, and I had one of those aha moments, the figure looked three dimensional and more real than anything I had painted on canvas at that point. The only challenge of working with slate is its fragility, but then in my opinion that’s also one of its delights; I love the holes and imperfections.
What piece of work has proven most popular?
“Brian,” a portrait of Mark Heap got a lot of people talking at my degree show; I think because it’s such a bold, comical image and could have been about so many different things.
In more recent times however my portrait of Amy Winehouse, “Amy came to me as a butterfly,” seems to resonate with the viewer, it is a striking image of a tragic icon and I think because it is very much of our time, she proved popular and sold almost instantly.
What piece of work are you most proud of and why?
At the moment I am probably most proud of my portrait of David Bowie, it represents a real turning point in my practice, as I felt I truly captured one of his characters and succeeded in painting an instantly engaging image.
Have any of the celebrities you have painted been made aware of your work and made a comment?
When I took part in 20:12, I was fortunate enough to be requested by Table Tennis champion Paul Drinkhall who later tweeted me saying how much he loves his portrait, that was a pretty cool moment.
Whose face did you enjoy working on the most?
Again it would have to be my portraits of Amy Winehouse and David Bowie as they both have such distinctive features; I like faces that have a bit of character to them and aren’t too airbrushed-it has to be real. I also enjoyed painting a young Lily Cole in my piece “Ingénue” as she has amazing eyes…the eyes of the portrait are usually where I start.
What is the greatest compliment you have received about your work?
People usually say about my work that it looks just like a photo, I get that a lot!
Is there anyone you really want to paint but haven’t done yet?
I would really like to paint Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge perhaps even with the baby Prince. I am sure she’ll be the subject of many portraits over the next few years but I feel as though I could bring something different to it. My aim is to paint as many faces of our generation as possible!
What projects are you currently working on?
I have been working on a series of fashion models on slate for some time now, and that is something which I will continue with as I eventually would like to exhibit a whole wall of my fashion on slate collection.
I also have an ever growing archive of images and this week I’ll be raiding it to see who the focus of my next portrait will be, I’ve been painting a lot of musicians lately so perhaps I’ll move into the world of film.
If you could see your work anywhere where would it be?
I like it best when I see my work hung in a house and I know it’s well loved by its owners. It becomes part of a way of living then. Of course it’d be wonderful to exhibit at the National Portrait gallery eventually, that’s the portrait painters dream. But I must say having my portrait of Tom Daley in Heat magazine was very exciting at the time!
What advice do you have for aspiring young artists?
It’s important to stick with it and not give up at the first rejection letter. Being an artist is one of the hardest career paths you can choose, because it’s not just a job it’s a complete lifestyle.
I paint everyday and if I’m not painting I’m thinking about it; it does at times consume everything else, but I don’t think you have any choice in the matter when it’s something that’s integral to you. Just keep going, be prepared for good months and bad ones, and have a good community of other artists around you.