With Special thanks to Culturego Magazine.
Annelie Solis is an artist whose art is difficult to put into words. It is something that must be experienced and felt. While her pieces feature characters whose morphology and adornments are reminiscent of aesthetics and visuals from cultures around the world, they also transcend any cultural confinement and speak to something universal. Annelie attributes the profound impact on viewers, and messages people receive from her images, to allowing God to work through her in order for the pieces to come to life. Rebelling against “academic art” at one point as a teenager, she now considers it her “dharma”, and doesn`t see her love of painting ever dying.
EP: When did you start painting?
AS: I guess I`ve been drawing and stuff my whole life.
EP: So you`ve been drawing since you were three?
AS: Pretty much. In school I was very defiant and I did not want to choose art because everybody told me that I had to. Everybody was like “Well you must choose art” and I was like “Whatever, I can draw I don`t need to do it for CXC (Caribbean Examination Council).” But then I realised I was not really capable of anything else. *Laughs*. So I was like “Fine, I`ll take art”. It`s only in form 5 when we got a new art teacher who was an actual artist and the way that she taught us, just opened my mind so much. And I think that was when I really fell in love with art.
“Then I realised I was not really capable of anything else.”
EP: Who was that?
AS: Ms. Cozier.
EP: How did you find her approach was different to other teachers?
AS: I don`t really remember exactly how it was. I just remember that that was what changed for me. The one thing that I can remember is simple things like, be dramatic with your work, in the sense that, if you`re doing dark, do DARK. Shadows should be black, and the highlights should be white. That doesn`t apply to everything obviously but that`s something that I remember so distinctly. `Cause you know when you`re at school you`re timid and you`re not really sure. She was like “No, do it!”. And when I did I just remember the results being like “huuuuu” *Amazed sound*. Look at that! Just be fearless. She knew about artistic principles. She had a dedication to teaching. She paints incredible portraits. I think that was something too, I respected her so much.
EP: You said in 2011 you felt more awakened and that had an effect on your work…
AS: At the end of 2010 my father passed away after about 6 years of fighting cancer and I think being faced with that level of loss will always cause you to shift in one way or another. And I was lucky I had and still have my brother who is just this incredible deep deep soul. He started questioning things and seeing things in this kind of enlightened way. And when I might have just been wallowing I was able to talk to him and I was able to open up to a deeper reality. Loss isn`t loss. You really have to question what life is when that happens. I started opening up to the deeper realities of life which are so obscured by society and the way that people live in general.
“That showed me the validity of not painting what you think people are going to buy.”
EP: Did your process change?
AS: Yea. I had had some exhibitions before. Nothing big. And after you leave school you have to think about making money. So I was always painting thinking about what will sell. And then there was this period, 2011-2013 or something like that where I just decided that I wanted to paint beautiful things. I don`t want to have to think about how it`s going to be taken and if people are going to buy it. And all these profound realisations I was having in life, I wanted to depict that. I use faces as a vehicle to show that because I just find that you can connect with eyes.
I`ve never loved landscape paintings although I love nature. So I would kind of personify nature as a glorious nature spirit or something like that. I was playing with personification of spiritual themes. The content of what I was painting was totally different and I wasn`t thinking about making money from it or anything. And I find what`s the most amazing thing was when I had an exhibition in 2013, it was so, so good. It was so successful. People were telling me that they were crying and feeling something so deep and so profound. I think that`s the kind of work I`ve come to be known for. That kind of spiritual, mystical fantastical work. That showed me the validity of not painting what you think people are going to buy.
EP: How would you explain why that work was more impactful?
AS: I guess when you`re focused on getting some kind of recognition or making some kind of money or that sort of thing. To be honest sure that could be like a beautiful talent, but it`s not real art. `Cause I think that real art, real true art, doesn`t come from the artist at all, it comes through the artist. So I`ve been given this talent and I`ve been able to train my technical skills which is so great and so necessary. But my work really expanded when it wasn`t about Annelie Solis trying to create something. It was about opening and just letting God create through me. Which may sound a bit pretentious but I feel like that`s what it is. I just try to be a channel. And when I bring too much of my mind, “How am I gona do this?” and “Who`s gona like this?, Who`s gona buy this?” and “What will people think?”, then it`s me again, but if I`m just using my skill and focusing on a beautiful intention then I`m just allowing.
EP: What were you classifying as sure sellers?
AS: Just the kind of “banana republic” depictions. African school children and bele dancers. Which I love, it`s beautiful, it`s just not my experience of the Caribbean. And I think there`s enough fantastic Caribbean artists painting those kinds of things.
EP: Which of your paintings would you say are Trinidadian inspired?
AS: I think all of them in the sense that this Trinidad culture is just this big melting pot with all of these glorious cultures. I love Indian culture and I love African Culture. All of the different aspects that make humans so incredible and beautiful. Those are not the things I paint but subconsciously all of those elements have affected my work. So I love to paint these kind of like Nubian queens of the universe…. They are all kind of inspired by where I live.
EP: How many hours do you spend doing one piece? I guess it won`t be same for all of them
AS: I actually really love to do the small little pieces, `cause I can just zone in for a couple hours and just, from start to finish I`m just there, present for the whole experience. Bigger ones would take a little bit longer but a week maximum.
EP: How do you make them so magical? I`m amazed.
AS: I think it`s not me making it at all. To be honest, I`m not big in the art world. Not to say I don`t appreciate art but I don`t go to that many exhibitions and I`m not familiar with that many artists. I just love making art and I love to just sit with a painting that I`ve made for hours and get lost.
“I think it`s not me making it at all”
I think what`s amazing too is when I make something and somebody gets a message from it or they explain what they see in it. I`m like wow, cool. I didn`t even think about that at all, but it connected with them so deeply. And that`s how I know that it`s not me. I can`t take that much credit. I can take credit for the technical skill and the discipline of meditating and wanting to bring God through my work.
EP: How many paintings have you done to date?
AS: I really don`t know.
EP: Crossing a thousand?
AS: I don`t think it`s reached 1000. Maybe in the hundreds.
EP: What does it mean to you to be extraordinary?
AS: It`s kind of sad that it would be extraordinary. But just that there are so many people in life who are choosing to live in a negative state. It`s sad that what makes an extraordinary person is somebody who chooses the opposite. Who chooses love and chooses to make the journey not just for themselves- because no man is an island. I think that what makes an extraordinary person is someone who realises that they have the privilege of choice and they are choosing love, and they are choosing God. They are choosing to find that truth and beauty in themselves and they are choosing to be of service to everyone else.