Life imitates art, am I right? And so is the case of how I found Ana Koehler. I was researching (aka instagram stalking) a new photographer friend when I came across the works of Ana Koehler . I was literally stopped in my tracks. There was something very real about her paintings. I can’t say exactly what it was that drew me in but as a new mother, I am in constant awe of what our bodies are capable of doing but not ignorant to the fact that it is a transition that takes time, lots of grace, and acceptance.
There was a depth to each painting and I knew a story. I emailed Ana and we connected instantly. As evident in her paintings, Ana paints the transitions and stages of women’s lives. She takes inspiration from something as simple as a look or glance, a photograph, relationships with other women and says her paintings are a representation of her own physical and emotional state. We sat down with Ana to discuss her journey to becoming an artist, how the stay at home mom finds time to paint, and what we can expect next. For more on Ana, follow her on Instagram at @ana_koehler and on her website at http://anakoehler.com/
Photography by Heather Gallagher
Tell us about your journey to becoming an artist? What is your background?
I grew up an only child in a tiny town called Franconia in Northern New Hampshire, population 1000 on a good day. Both my parents are artists in their own right; my father is a woodworker and my mother is a jeweler. I grew up in a house where names such as Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse and Gustav Klimt were spoken quite often. Since I didn’t have any siblings or a tv, I found myself making art to entertain myself and transport me. Some of my fondest memories are when I would go to NYC museums with my Grandmother. She was also a very supportive person in my life and a lover of art.
In high school, there weren’t many options besides the basic Art I, Art II, Advanced Art, etc. So I joined a small group of elderly artists – I was the youngest by at least 40 years – in the community who met weekly in the local Lion’s Club basement. They had nude models sit for them, long and short poses, and that’s where I really discovered drawing the human body and was completely hooked. My parents knew I needed to be making art and that our small community didn’t have many options, so each summer they scraped together what they had and were able to send me to some amazing summer art programs – Bennington Pre-College program being one of them – where I met some incredible working artists and was opened up to a new world view of other kids making art and wanting to be immersed.
I went to Art School at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA. After two years I got pretty lost and stopped painting. I left school and moved to New York City where I started a career in Fashion. I thought about painting all the time, and I missed it, but I didn’t paint once in 13 years. For some artists, New York is really stimulating and inspiring but I found it suffocating to my process. It took me until the birth of my son, and the moving to Austin to really begin painting again. After the fog of the first year of motherhood left me, I knew I needed to be making something but I wasn’t sure what. I did some pottery classes at Dougherty Arts Center. Every class I would find myself peering into the painting studio, checking out what other students were painting, and I knew I had to get back there. I worked with a therapist trying to figure out how I wanted to spend my time, what was important to me, what I wanted my son to see me working on if I wasn’t with him, and I always came back to painting. One day, I woke up and decided, today I am going to paint. So I started small, and worked with just some acrylics I had laying around and some paper. And it changed my life.
Rivka and Esther
What drew you to paint women, specifically the different stages and transitions of a woman’s life?
Even as a child, I was always interested in art that was figurative with female subjects. Artists like Egon Schiele, Alice Neel and Marlene Dumas were prominent influences. The energy in their paintings, the movement, the emotions. I was totally addicted to their work.
As a woman, I feel a truth in painting women. Creating more women for the world to see and to understand is needed. Since becoming a mother I am amazed by women even more so, the constant and repeated rebirths of women during each major life transition. I’m also really interested in relationships between women. I came from such a strong community of amazing women, women who were my second mothers and aunts and grandmothers. Women who I knew one way as a child, and as an adult another way. I think I am always seeking that strong female connection everywhere I go and I’m incredibly interested in painting that.
I’ve picked up where I left off in the series I started in college, and have been working on the next level of life transition: 30’s/motherhood. There is so much I want to paint in this “life stage” still; it’s really just the beginning for me.
Woman Flow III
Where do you find inspiration?
I mostly find inspiration in photographs; either ones I’ve taken or ones I see in print or online. I paint friends a lot, but also total strangers. I sometimes find myself painting a pose I’m making in a photo, but someone else’s face, and then someone else’s coloring, etc. I’m drawn to the pose and the facial expression. I also paint a lot from memory. I will be thinking of someone from my past, or my present, and just have to get that image of them into paint!
How connected are you to each painting?
I’m connected to each painting while I’m painting it. I’m really feeling them and finding myself, or someone I know in each painting. But once it’s finished I’m usually able to see objectively and say goodbye.
When I paint large I get very connected. I put so much time and energy into my large paintings that it’s hard not to feel attached.
Tell us about your process for each painting? Do you paint in stages, at night?
I do almost all my painting at night after my son Roman – who is three – is asleep. It’s obviously impossible to paint when he’s around. Sometimes I can’t wait to paint all day. I’ll wake up in the morning after dreaming of a painting, and it’s frustrating to not be able to just go paint, but I have to be patient and wait until his bedtime, and desperately hope I don’t lose that energy. Often, at the end of a long day of parenting it’s really hard to shut that part of the brain off, and turn on my creative painter brain, but usually, once I put on some music, and get set up, that energizes and excites me enough to plow ahead.
Generally I don’t paint in stages. If i’m painting on paper, I sit there until it’s finished. I don’t like to walk away from an unfinished painting, but with bigger paintings (sometimes I paint up to 5 feet) that’s not possible. When I leave a painting unfinished, it’s basically all I can think about, until I’m back in front of it. It’s all consuming.
Did becoming a mother influence your work?
Absolutely. I didn’t feel like I could paint truthfully, nor did I really appreciate that creative time and ability, until I became a mother. I had a really hard birth and postpartum time. Once I was past that, I became so immersed in motherhood, nothing else was able to sneak in. About 18 months in, I hit a wall where I needed to be doing something that was all my own and nothing I was going to share with anyone else. I touched on this above, but I needed to start painting again to reclaim myself as an individual and a woman, and not just as a mother. I feel like I’ve come full circle, and it’s always painting that saves me in the end.
I know as a creative, it is hard to turn it off. How do you balance being a mom and running a business?
I’m not sure, I’m still figuring this out. I stay at home with our son, so I have pretty much zero daytime hours to focus on painting or growing my painting “business”, or much else really. So all of these thoughts have to happen in the evening, which is a struggle. My husband is a major part of this balance and supports my creative endeavors. He’s always willing to take over when I need to get into the studio.
I’ve also met some amazing women here in Austin, who are all in the same boat of being young mothers and trying to run a business. We are really trying to support each other for this exact reason. It helps so much to have them to bounce ideas off of or just complain about not having any time, or get a coffee with and have a creative mental re-boot.
Where can we find your work? Do you take commissions?
You can find all my work on my instagram @ana_koehler and my website (http://anakoehler.com) has a selection too. I just started making some giclee prints of a few paintings, which are all available on Etsy for now: https://www.etsy.com/shop/AnaK
I’m starting to show my work and figuring out that whole process and yes, I do take commissions! The bigger the better – I love painting super large, and don’t have the opportunity much.
What’s next for Ana Koehler?
I’m actually starting my Doula certification with Doula Trainings International in May and I am beyond excited. This has been something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. I’m really excited about merging Doula work with my art, and am so curious to see how helping and working with women translates into my paintings. I’m looking forward to immersing myself even more into this great community. I have met the most amazing women here, and have some exciting things in the works with a small group of women whom I’ve become close with. More on that soon!