As the shorebirds made landfall one serene summer morning in Amagansett, NY, the 28-year-old art-world star Anna Weyant was just climbing into bed. She was not winding down from a social bender – though it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary if she had been – but rather recovering from a marathon painting session. She had been up working for some 20 hours in her makeshift studio on the beach, delving into the darkness she has come to cherish so notably in her work.
Anna wears sweater, pants, and shoes by PRADA
Although she only began painting professionally five years ago, Canadian-born Weyant is one of the most talked-about young artists in America right now. She is also in a romantic relationship with her gallerist, 78-year-old Larry Gagosian, one of the most powerful people in the art world (and whose library the image that accompanies this story was taken in). These intertwined facts have been deeply consequential for the painter who was dubbed the “millennial Botticelli” by The Wall Street Journal last year for her figurative works that appear more akin to Early Renaissance or the Dutch Golden Age than contemporary art. Summertime (2020), for instance, Weyant’s ethereal and lonesome mediation on the human interior, was first acquired in 2020 for $12,000. Last May, it resold for $1.5 million at Christie’s. Later on in the year, her first show for Gagosian in New York, Baby, It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over, was an overnight hit: Not only was it Instagrammed everywhere, all the pieces immediately sold. Marc Jacobs, who referenced one of her paintings featuring pearls for his autumn/winter 2023 fashion collection, attended opening night, as did Venus Williams and the influencer Eileen Kelly, both of whom were subjects of the works on view. And yet, with all these successes and social acclaims, the artist has had her fair share of nepo-slinging and misogyny-veiled criticism too. “I don’t entirely disagree with some of the things people have said,” admits Weyant, whose success has been questioned because of her love life and whose works have been devalued for the way that their maker looks.
from left: Eileen in Red, 2023; oil on linen, 24 1/8 x 20 1/8 x 1 1/8 inches (61.3 x 51 x 2.9 cm); Early Winter, 2023; oil on canvas, 24 x 18 x 1 1/8 inches (61 x 45.7 x 2.7 cm)
“For a long time I was ashamed to be a young girl making work that felt so… serious,” she adds, speaking via Zoom from her Suffolk County bed. “Ashamed to let people know that I dye my hair blonde, that I use social media.” As she presses her MacBook to her chest like a college student under the spell of a Netflix binge, her profile is illuminated by a soft, melancholic glow that is eerily close to the lighting she opts for when capturing her own subjects. “I was living between two very separate worlds, and I decided to allow myself to see what happens when they collide.”
Weyant, who earned a BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and briefly studied at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou before heading to New York in 2018, is captivated by the mechanics of light and shadow, specifically how their interplay affects the bodily form. Emotionally, she is thrilled by imperfections, but not literally of course: Her baby-faced heroines – with their soft, silky curves and illustriously porcelain skin – have become her signature. The interest, rather, lurks in the twisted underbelly of human character, where beauty ages into staleness and crass becomes comedy. It’s a quality that is inescapable in even her most fragile still lifes. Weyant started her career painting self-portraits because she felt too uncomfortable asking strangers to join her in this nebulous morbidity, but it was not long before she progressed into intimate painting sessions during which she will spend hours, if not days, sitting beside her muses. Many of these sessions involve provocative gestures or tawdry posing, though Weyant is not so concerned about the sexual gaze as much as the complicated tensions that accompany desire. “I like my figures to be endearing, but also off-putting,” she says. “There’s no straight line and a lot of my work gets messy. [My subjects] are complicated beings.”
A Disaster, Such a Catastrophe, 2022; oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 48 1/8 x 1 1/4 inches (92.1 x 122.2 x 3.2 cm)
While Weyant’s paintings are often compared to the sardonic work of John Currin and the 17th-century Dutch masters Frans Hals and Judith Leyster, her body of work revels in the darker burden of adolescence. Like Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette, there is both a celebration of and a rejection of a distorted fairy tale, replete with anachronisms. The artist is well aware of the discontinuities – how she presents and the work she creates – and the privileges that allow her to be on her path. Her show this fall at Gagosian’s Paris outpost, Life After Power, is both a historical allusion to the history of US presidents after leaving office as well as a snarky reflection on her own ascent in the art world.
“I’m almost 30, which feels like a big number to me,” Weyant says of the October exhibition, which will feature a handful of 121.9 × 91.4 cm works and mark her European debut. A mixture of oil-painted still lifes and figurative works, the pieces will act as a continuation of her last exhibition, although much is still to be determined. “I’ve had a lot of really high highs in a very short amount of time,” she continues, torn about her own feelings of success. “Even though I’m joking about it with the title, I am really truly wondering what is next for me. I know I’ll be painting – that part will never stop – but where? And of whom?”
Quicksand Roses; oil on canvas, 30 x 24 1/4 x 1 inches (76.2 x 61.6 x 2.5 cm)
The one time that Weyant, whose fall show is also timed with the publishing of her first major monograph, felt she went too far with her work was during the thickness of the pandemic. On her canvas she presented a beautiful young girl, based on herself, with her head reclining peacefully on a table. As her locks of delicate blonde hair spilled over the surface’s edge, a butcher’s knife severed the beautiful strands beside her face. “I was in a really dark place at the time. I just felt so sad for this girl who was me but also not.” That time, the decision about which world to accept was easy: “I ended up scrapping the painting. Sometimes you just have to choose happiness.”
Still Life with Fruit and Vase, 2023; oil on linen, 20 x 24 1/4 x 1 1/8 inches (50.8 x 61.4 x 2.9 cm)
Pearl Bracelet, 2021; oil on canvas, 6 x 6 1/8 x 1 inches (15.2 x 15.6 x 2.5 cm)