By NOAH BECKER June, 2022
Anna Delvey who also is known as Anna Sorokin, joined me from ICE custody for a conversation about her first NFT, her recent art show in New York City and her favorite fashion designer. Her reputation, personal struggles and legal issues are well-known - so it seemed like a good moment to discuss other aspects of her life and career. If you don't know her story, Google it, there's plently of info available, including the Netflix series based on her life.
Aside from being publicly confused with Boris Becker's son Noah Becker in the German mainstream media, my interaction with Anna Delvey has mostly been about art - she's quite sophisticted about art and artists. I also thought about how mounting a solo show of Anna's was quite a feat - considering she is currently being held in ICE custody. Anna had the help and curating skills of Chris Martine from Founders Art Club, a young New York based art dealer. Martine is also adept at throwing major events and the performative spectacle of the exhibition opening at New York's Public Hotel perfectly suited Anna Delvey's image.
I was lucky to have an audience with Anna at this time - and happy to hear about her art, her thoughts on fashion and other aspects of her narrative mostly overlooked by the international press...
Noah Becker: When you're coming up with ideas for drawings, do you find an idea before starting it, or during the process of making it?
Anna Delvey: I always have the general concept in mind before I start - but the drawing often evolves as I proceed. I change outfits, add details, come up with different captions and text. Sometimes I go back and make edits to an already finished work. It's a constant work in progress until the very end, until the pieces leave my custody (laughs).
Becker: Do you want these art pieces to influence the public's perception of your story? If I am correct, you generally don't care what people think of you? But if you were making an impression through art, how do you feel people might be moved by your art?
Delvey: I hope from my work people will see that there are many different ways to deal with adversity, it's ok to try things and to fail, and that you can turn something negative into something creative. The most beautiful things often come from making mistakes. Most people experience failure and setbacks of various scales throughout their life. The only ones who have never failed are the ones who never tried anything. I believe that's why my story resonates with so many people.
I hope that after seeing my pieces individuals who may have had fear of failure before, would rethink their reservations and go out there and try something new.
Becker: You have very specific taste in fashion and have spoke about studying fashion illustration. What are your general thoughts on where fashion is heading? And also who is your favorite current fashion designer? I feel like the public would be excited to know this info.
Delvey: My favorite designer? - so hard to pick one - I obviously always loved Rick Owens. I also love Raf Simons. I'm excited to see what Amina Muaddi will do next - I'm obsessed with her sandals, can't wait to be in a place where I could actually wear them. I'm glad to see the support and wider media coverage of designers of color and the ones from less conventional backgrounds. I hope fashion industry continues down the path of inclusion and diversity, embracing different sizes, visions and voices.
Becker: Did you ever expect to have a show for your art? Did you always want to make art and show art, or is the artist aspect of your life an unexpected twist?
Delvey: People were intrigued and wanted to own part of my story as a piece of art, and I just gave them what they wanted. I don't think I ever planned on pursuing a career in art. It happened as a natural progression from all the attention my work has received over past couple years.
It happened in gradual steps, and it kind of started with one of the sketches I made during my trial inadvertently ending up in the NYT, then I created more art while in upstate prison and then my works have been animated for an HBO documentary, and once I was out Alfredo Martinez approached me by planting an article in Page Six - the rest is history.
Becker: How do you stay strong in the midst of dealing with incarceration? I know a lot of people outside of prison who are less productive than you. When I talk to you, you seem to always be ambitious and excited about life. What's your advice to people about staying happy and productive?
Delvey: I definitely wouldn't use the word 'happy' when describing myself in jail now. Staying busy and doing things is my way of coping with my current situation. I still absolutely hate it here, every single day. But by having a full schedule it's easier to remove myself from the reality.
I have a tablet and I can call and message people in my contacts all day long, so that helps with maintaining contact and control and getting things done. Having WiFi access, even if it's limited mainly to news and communication apps, makes all the difference. I wouldn't know what I would do if I didn't have it. I especially hate the weekends and holidays here. That's always the most depressing time - and that's when I feel that I'm isolated from the world the most.
I'm lucky to have a huge support system all over the world and everyone on my team who is helping me on daily basis. Also there are always new people who regularly reach out with interesting ideas, so I am able to grow and build on my existing foundation even while I'm still in here.
There is never a dull moment. Also, I am currently in ICE detention, which is considered civil, not "criminal custody", so the context of my incarceration is different this time around. It's so sad that American government criminalizes immigration issues and considers jail a universal solution to all problems. There are so many alternatives to incarceration that serve the same supervision purpose and aren't such a burden on American taxpayers, but DHS still chooses to keep people in ICE custody for years at a time.
Becker: Yes, it's just shameful what they're doing. Aside from your image in the press, I sense a kind of female “Robin Hood” story developing through your drawings which lends itself nicely to a series of works. Do you feel like that kind of Robin Hood character?
Delvey: I leave it up to people to interpret it however they wish. I'm definitely not tailoring my story to fit any certain narrative. It's up to them if they see any similarities; I'm intentionally leaving room for interpretation. I'm just trying to do my thing and staying focused on whatever comes next.
Becker: Your work is autobiographical but also you've been heavily fictionalized by Hollywood. Are you content with the Netflix version of you melding into your art and personality, or is there another side to you?
Delvey: I revisited some of the Netflix references in my latest works only because I considered it timely commentary since the show came out earlier this year, but I see that narrative as something for me to move on from - not get stuck in. I wouldn't want to still talk about this two years from now for example. I don't see the need for me to sift through each episode of the Netflix series pointing out the inaccuracies. It's Shonda's creation, inspired by my story. She had a creative license. Inventing Anna is not a documentary, and was never conceived as one.
I, as other people out there, am constantly changing and my views are evolving. I don't remain static just because a certain period of my life has been captured on a small screen. I hope I'll get an opportunity to move on and not having to try to rebuild my life from inside of a jail.
Becker: In your drawing, "I am the show", there's a figure with a shiny dress in the middle of the picture. Is that from a real experience or moment in your life?
Delvey: It's figurative. I think the piece made for a good 'kicker' and captured the mood nicely. Because that's what it feels like it all came out to in the end - the cumulative past years resulting in a Netflix show.
Becker: I keep thinking about your drawing "Creating Anna", which shows prison wear and designer clothes on each half of the picture, kind of split down the middle of the page - it's very humorous - are you going for humor?
Delvey: That drawing was actually meant to be more on the somber side. And that was supposed to represent the view from prosecutor's/criminal justice system's perspective - like, they have all these options and they have the power to change my life and take it into a certain direction.
Becker: You have said about your future plans, "guess we'll have to wait and see." I understand why you want to keep people guessing. But is there anything you can share here without giving too much away?
Delvey: I have so many interesting projects in the works. I obviously would like to announce each one when the time comes, and allow each one to breathe on its own. My very next one is my first NFT drop, which will essentially be a token that serves as a calling card providing the owner with access to me - it's coming later this month.
As I mentioned, I get new offers and collaboration ideas on daily basis, from all over the world. My recent art has triggered such a great feedback, I'm excited to see what will come out of it.
I'm trying to remain selective with collaborations I choose to pursue. And I'm still of course working on my book, podcast, clothing line and my criminal justice reform initiative. WM
To hear Noah Becker's Whitehot Art World Podcast with guest Anna Delvey go here.
To buy a print or original drawing by Anna Delvey contact Chris Martine at Founders Art Club
Noah Becker shows his paintings internationally. A visual artist, saxophonist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for many other major magazines. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has also written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube.
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