Elements of Surprise – Prints & Paintings by Anna Ullman
“When I go into the studio, I like to be surprised,” says American artist Anna Ullman, neatly summing up the freestyle energy of her paintings and prints. Her practice swings in pendulums between hard-edge geometry and free-style expressionism, but uniting these two divergent strands is an ongoing obsession with colour, texture and design. Whether splattered with a fine grey mist, built up into a rich patchwork of colours or slowly painted into dark, angular wedges, all her works demonstrate an untrammelled pleasure in the tactility of ink and paint.
Based in Los Angeles, Ullman divides her time between studio practice and work as an Art Director and designer for the fashion brand Mother Denim. Being within the fashion industry undoubtedly informs the nature of Ullman’s paintings, reflected in her bold, eye-catching compositions and fresh, breezy colours. But within the studio her working methods are freer and more spontaneous, allowing an intuitive and unexpected process to take over, as she explains, “I work in layers, choosing materials and combining techniques that are organic and unpredictable. One day a painting will look one way, and the next day that same piece may look completely different.”
Monoprinting is an important aspect of Ullman’s practice, which she creates by mixing and smearing oil-based inks onto sheets of plexiglass in a range of designs, before laying water-soaked sheets of paper on top. Once pushed through a press, the final result is revealed, and it is always a one-off, surprise image that emerges. Each of these prints has their own unique identity; some feature fluid streak of colour that seems to float in space, while others are more ordered and angular, made with confident, zig-zagging streaks of black ink. Many of Ullman’s acrylic on canvas paintings share this same playful expressionism with bold, free brushstrokes in black, white or bright colours that swing through space with carefree abandon, dripping here and there as if still in the process of making. Others are splattered with a hazy mist of dark paint to create noisy, fizzing textures.
Ullman’s geometric paintings and prints are cleaner and more ordered in style, but they share the same spontaneous, playful energy as her expressive works, with angular shards of colour that float weightlessly through white space. Closer inspection in many of these works shows how paint and ink are applied in dense, tactile or painterly layers, revealing Ullman’s ongoing delight in the endless possibilities of colour, surface and texture.