Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. As a young art student, I had no direction in my work; I only knew I loved to draw. I taught myself how to draw through repainting or sketching from photos I found online; Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest became my source of inspiration. It wasn’t until I developed my portfolio for my AP Studio Art course in high school that I developed my concentration. When I stopped taking technical drawing courses, I lost touch with my thesis of art and returned to my roots: drawing and painting from photos online as a form of meditation. With a mature mind and focus, I found myself returning to one style of drawing more than the rest: abstract figures. The art of Anna Tsvell left a lasting impression.
I first came across old drawings of Anna Tsvell on Pinterest. Soon, my sketchbook was full of recreations of her drawings. Tsvell’s art abstracts the female form past the bounds of recognition. Her abstractions always contain elements of surrealism. She obscures a subject’s face by distorting features such as elgonating and curving necks, widening eyes, sloping mouths, and pointing fingers. Tsvell breaks down features to their geometric forms. For example, she uses two trapezoids to create a nose, creating wide, open space across the center of a subject’s face, making the viewer question what lies beneath the skin and inside the subject’s mind.
Thematically, Tvell’s work explores the female form and body. Her work is expressive with her classic twinge of surrealism. Tsvell’s artist statement details her exploration of scars on the body. She identifies the action of scarring as attributing to the formation of personality. Scars, she says, are painful and pleasurable. Tsvell tells stories without words through her art (it should be noted, however, that some early sketches contain poems) just as she finds scars on the body. She plays with the notion of visible and invisible scars: the mental and the physical.
Tsvell’s early portraiture gleams in vibrant color. Electric blues and saturated reds fill the work. Tsvell’s interest in line is consistent. Her early portraits and later abstractions incorporate line and texture to create three dimensional effects. Tsvell pushes her subjects past the realm of reality through blocking forms, which echoes cubism works of Pablo Picasso. By disfiguring the subject into mere shape and color, the subject is just barely recognizable and humanesque.
Tsvell’s watercolor and ink work drew my immediate attention. Portraits featuring an oddly angular skull and skinny, long necks adorn each paper. Color plays an important role in abstracting the figure. Blue cheeks, red eyes, green eyebrows, and yellow hair. Her works are reflections of fantastical scenes. My favorite work that peaked my interest is titled “Molten Meditations Before Vanishing” 2015. The subject has flat features: wide eyelids, a trapezoidal nose, an elongated neck, a pouty mouth, and wild hair. Detail of white line adorn details in the eyes, mouth and hair. While the figure is obscured, the viewer connects with the subject.
Another favorite work of mine is Tsvell’s series of “The Girl With A Pearl Earring (After The Girl With A Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer)” 2017, 2018, 2020. The 2017 portrait is gastly. Completely taken over in Tsvell’s corpse-like style, the subject’s elongated neck appears to be dragged down by the weight of her pearl earring. The 2018 portrait pushes further into abstraction, featuring multiple eyes and a misplaced mouth. Her 2020 version does not even include facial features. Without knowing the title of the work, the viewer is just observing colors of ink, with penned details. One can make out a hint of lips, an eye, the stark white circle where her pearl earring lay.
Tsvell has collaborated with the likes of Harper’s Bazaar Korea for a special edition cover art, has an exclusive digital fashion art collection for Dress-X, and Dior and Tiffany & Co for The Fashionable Lampoon project. Tsvell recently held a personal online exhibition in October and November of 2020 titled “Triumph of Life.” Tsvell’s work inspires me to continue drawing and painting. Her work pushes the bounds of reality.