Anouk Colantoni, Brooklyn NY

Words by Natalie Shukur

Images by Beth Garrabrant


Jumping from the very sleepy island of Tasmania, headfirst into the very frenetic island of New York (by way of Sydney), for artist Anouk Colantoni, life is one big romance. The great unknown and a sense of being both challenged and embraced by New York over the past seven years cracked Colantoni wide-open, compelling her leave a successful fashion career to document her experiences--the good, the bad, and the unbelievable--through her vibrant, confessional, humorous, and sensual works in ink and watercolor. Now residing in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighbourhood and manifesting an amplification of her art practice, Colantoni relies on the energy of the city, and its endless connections and collaborations, to inspire her latest work.

Anouk, what have you been up to recently?

It has been such a fun start to the year for me, compared to the past six I have had here in New York! I can’t believe spring is finally here (that echoes my constant state of being in New York: Hurry up and slow down! Take your time — get ahead fast!) On my way back from a trip home to Australia, I spent a month between January and February in L.A., enjoying what they call winter (?!). Bikes and the beach in Venice; palm trees and cacti growing next to blossoms in bloom…. It was all very coincidental. I planned to stop in to see an old friend on the way back to NYC, and I manifested three jobs when I landed: A fun, colourful portrait collaboration with Lancôme Paris; a custom print for a very delicious lingerie brand, and I worked with a bra company that is re-launching as a wire-free, chemical free bra, which I became very passionate about. Other than that, I am collaborating on more live artwork right now. I love the idea of using the energy around me and interacting with the people I am painting in real time. It is more a performance, with the outcome being a personality on paper.

That all sounds very enriching and exciting. You transitioned from working as a fashion stylist into a career in art and illustration—what inspired the change?

Change itself! I came to New York with an itch to expand what I was doing, to see what possibilities were out there in terms of life and career. While I set up my world in New York as a fashion stylist, working at Vogue, a digital fashion start up, and beyond, I found that New York as a city—my life and the many challenges I faced and all the victories big and small, were in such opposition to my life in Australia. It was so vivid and barley believable; the people I met, the places I would end up, the opportunities to try new things, the pain of the unknown being so overwhelming, all the humans around me each grappling very visibly with their own lives, and the camaraderie of everyone supporting one another in their endeavours. And of course my giant open heart that I flung into dating, making my fantasies come to life in this wild town, sometimes in ways that were so much fun but I lost my own sense of boundaries. I was working in fashion, which lost its validity to me for a while. I felt empty at the thought of working in a field that no longer inspired me, so in my spare time I picked up a small journal, pen and watercolor kit, and would sit on the train to work, in my then-boyfriend’s backyard on the weekend or in a café, and draw what I felt: what made me cry, what made me laugh, and let it all out as a sort of cathartic therapy. I liked the messiness of life in New York more when I was able to listen, experience, and then paint it or write it out. It felt more honest and sexy and creative to me. I felt ridiculous to start, embarrassed to show what I really felt, but then I began to feel connected to my life and to others by sharing my stories in this way. And sharing my art on Instagram led me to have a show featuring two years worth of these stories, which kick-started another part of my career: making art! Sharing really is caring!

How would you describe your art practice?

Well, I would say a good dose of emotional tension is needed to begin my process of personal work. I need a catalyst—happy, sad, absurd—as I am referential in my social commentary, and to make a piece I will let the experience of what I am trying to express inform the materials I use. I am essentially a watercolour painting illustrator who, on a good day, has a way with words. I have been working on very small scale but I am shifting quickly to a more dynamic, energetic mode of expression on a very large scale.

You have such a beautiful sense of community and collaborative spirit, which shines through in the work you do. New York certainly fosters that.

For me, 2018 is all about being a collaborator. Solo is only going to get me, or anyone, so far. The idea of putting my energy and ideas together with other people’s ideas excites me. It’s like a giant creative puzzle and a practice of connection, which is most important to my work. New York has thrown open doors to me and those around me: people here want to meet you, want to know what you do, want to connect and make something magical. No one is afraid that they will lose their originality or identity, they can see that it is in fact a way for it to shine through when a project comes to life in a team. I love the city for that.

What do you love about your lifestyle in New York and how does it differ from your former life in Sydney?

I don’t think much of my life in Sydney exists in my daily life in New York anymore, not after seven years. I do still wake up every day yearning to have Bondi Beach outside my window so I can go for a quick dip and hit reset! I love New York because it is a living being in itself: inside this superbly energetic organism, millions of wonderful people live and thrive and struggle together to make their passions into a reality. I step out the door every day and don’t know what could happen.

I love New York because it is a living being in itself: inside this superbly energetic organism, millions of wonderful people live and thrive and struggle together to make their passions into a reality. I step out the door every day and don’t know what could happen.

How would you describe your space and bedroom—what mood do you like to create here?

It is big, bright, and my own. It is a gentle safe haven from the intensity of New York, well specifically Greenpoint, right outside my door. I have moved so many times and lived in so many spaces—almost like a nomad—so this space is sacred because I feel the most settled I have been here. I don’t know if I will ever feel 100 percent settled in the USA. Space and light is so important and so I wanted to make the colours and textures warm: a touch of the maximalist with gilt frames and my obsession with the Versace silks my mother collected years ago that have travelled with me. I love elements of romance, flowers, and my friends’ art works. I like to come here, light some incense, and curl up in the sun to read. Plants, well, I want more of them! I haven’t been the best plant mum yet. I am trying to grow up and learn how to keep them thriving! Maybe it is reflective of what I need for myself: self-care vs. plant care. They seem related!

linen duvet set

Without being able to dip in the waters at Bondi, how do you deal with the pressures of living in New York City?

My artwork came as a form of therapy to help express the pressures with humour, sensitivity and honesty. And I really think that leaving when I can is key to staying here. Small trips in nature (I am Tasmanian, after all): upstate, seeing green, out East to the water. I didn’t leave for two years at one point and was so depressed and out of touch, I vow never to do that again! I take a deep breath; I exercise a lot, take baths, and get massages (when I have the money!). I remind myself that the pace of the people and the place is not a reflection of what I need to do, as it can be a dangerous comparison game that has at some points run me into the ground. And I like to tap into the amazing things that happen only here by visiting galleries and seeing shows to remind me of what I am doing here and change the [city’s] energy into opportunities.

Do you have any morning and nightly rituals?

Lately, I’ve let go of my old rituals and am transitioning to new ones. I think that rituals are so important—to feel a sense of beginning and end—but right now they are minimal whilst I build new ones that suit the new phase of life I am in. At night, I will come home and light my favourite incense and/or sage in my room to clear the energy and bring my state of being down (I can be highly anxious, can you tell?!) I like to take baths before bed, listen to piano music, and read. Mornings I like to get up and exercise first thing or else it gets lost, and I love seeing the sun come up and NYC before it wakes up, it feels like mine, so I cycle, do yoga or pilates to put my crazy amount of energy to good use and make me feel in my body. Then I like to get a coffee or matcha at my local spot, go home, dress up for my mood of the day, and walk or ride to my studio in Williamsburg.

To where, what, and whom do you look to get your creative juices flowing?

There’s no one thing for me, it’s always the people around me, conversations, people doing their everyday mundane tasks, and what makes them tick. Interactions with people in my own life; passion; a sense of expressing my own sexuality, challenging ideas of women’s sexuality, nature, books, galleries, Japanese animation, live music, human touch, moving my body. Right now I am obsessed with the wildly magical world of mushrooms/fungi, insects that look like orchids, bold colorful flowers, and surf culture. Tim Winton’s book My Island about the experience of coming from an island country resonates almost painfully with me. I am interested in bodies floating in release and ecstasy. I am also feeling something in the idea of people who practice physical restraint physically as a way to ultimately release and be unrestrained in their expression—mostly photos of this at the moment, and the creations of Fleet Ilya. I love talking to wonderful humans. Laughing at small things and drawing out larger themes from the minutiae of my life.

You love to experiment with clothing and personal style. What textures, colours, fabrics and silhouettes do you find yourself most drawn to?

I love it, yes! I am currently sitting here in a candy pink angora sweater, loving life. It also makes people smile, and in a strange way reach out to touch my arm, because it’s so tactile—that is funny and fun to me! I love leotards with jeans and shorts; I love sheer fabrics with tight forms underneath that flow as I move—I guess I like things that make me feel like a dancer? I dress for my mood: sometimes it is simple, French, with a touch of red lipstick and nails. Other times I stick to my motto: when in doubt, look expensive! Dressing in a certain way, a way that embraces being female, makes me move through the world in a very deliberate and positive way. Give me colour any day! Jeans and sneakers finally got me after seven years in NYC, before that it was just dresses and slacks.

What are you currently reading, watching, and listening to?

Read: My Life in a Column by Tracey Emin. I am beginning my own writing projects, and it is great to read how one of my idols expresses herself without shame or fear but with great love and understanding. She is a blast!

Watch: Ugly Delicious by chef David Chang, because, yum! I love that man. And The Handmaiden (not to be confused with The Handmaids Tale!) this is a very erotic Korean film; I love Asian erotica and fetishism.

Listen: I listen to other people’s playlists to find new music and right now no one in particular is grabbing my attention. But I love podcasts when I am drawing: science, life habits of these so-called efficient and successful humans such as Tim Ferris—I am always in awe of super-organized people as I am no longer one of those.

What’s up next for you?

A writing project; collaborations with a close friend’s amazing clothing brand, Merlette, and the Japanese department store, Tomorrowland. And, well, I am working out what to dig my creative teeth into. I am hungry to make something new; I’m just not 100% set on what it is yet. Is this a practice in patience as opposed to procrastination? That’s the ultimate question for me.