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Q&A with Illustrator Anna Lustberg

Anna Lustberg, "We're Getting Divorced" (2019), 24 x 30 in., Hahnemühle Fine Art Print.
(All images courtesy of the artist)

What’s Mine is Yours: Illustrated Memories
On view September 3 - 8, 2019
Parasol Projects: 
2 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002

By JEFFREY GRUNTHANER, Aug. 2019

Anna Lustberg’s illustrations have an existential whimsicality about them. Inspired by the panelled narratives of comic books, her digital drawings—“vignettes” as she sometimes refers to them—seem to enact a withdrawal into a dream-like sense of time and place. Here, the awkwardness of adolescence collides with adulthood confusions, creating a quasi-fictional universe glimpsed through colorfully tinted portals. 

In anticipation of her first solo exhibition, What's Mine is Yours: Illustrated Memories, which opens on September 3rd, Lustberg and I discussed her stylistic quirks and inspirations, and the familial sense of community that peeks out from memory's tragic-comic mask.

Jeffrey Grunthaner: I’m wondering what your points of inspiration are for What’s Mine is Yours. Has your style changed much since you started drawing?

Anna Lustberg: I started drawing when I was very young—around four years old. I remember my mom teaching me how to draw, with just a few lines to make a face, and I took it from there. I’d sit for hours at a table in our family den drawing people with a black pen and coloring them in with crayons, and, as I got older, writing stories that I illustrated.

My style has remained more or less the same in terms of drawing people in a linear, cartoonish style with a black pen (though now colored-in digitally instead of with crayons). But I think the lines have a smoother look to them. I’ve also added more text to my drawings. My style continues to become more “free” with the way I draw lines. I want it to feel more Basquiat-like in the sense of producing a stream of consciousness, rather than a delicately drawn piece.

Anna Lustberg, "Letters from Camp Harlam" (2019), 14 x 14 in., Hahnemühle Fine Art Print.

JG: How do you set about making an illustration? What's your process?

AL: The concept comes first, and maybe even more so, an image appears in my mind before I go to draw. Of course, while I’m drawing I may add elements to it that weren’t in my plan, but I generally know what I’m going to do before I sit down. 

I first start with a pencil on paper and usually do a lot of erasing. Once I’m happy with the work, I finalize the drawing by going over everything in archival black ink pen, scan the piece into the computer, then add color digitally in Photoshop. Digital color looks great online, and the first place I showed my work was on Instagram. I want my work to be easy to share in digital space.

Depending on how detailed an illustration is, one piece can take up to four hours from start to finish. My simpler drawings I refer to as “vignettes,” which take much less time because there’s no detailed backdrop. The vignettes tend to communicate one simple or quick idea, while my works that have a lot of detail are what I consider full illustrations.

Anna Lustberg, "My Christmas Gift" (2017), 14 x 14 in., Hahnemühle Fine Art Print.

JG: Being that this is your first solo show, is there any particular work you feel is most fully realized, or your personal favorite?

AL: I have a few personal favorites in the show. “Letters from Camp Harlam,” “We’re Getting Divorced,” “Bubby and Papa Met at Schroon Lake (1950),” and “The Rope” all took a long time to complete, and I think it’s safe to say I put the most work into these four. I like the perspectives in each; I feel like they are fully realized scenes that give a good sense of the moment.

My curator, Romina G. Khan, has a favorite called “Sisters Drawing.” It’s an illustration of my younger sister Arin and me drawing at the table in our den. The same room, our family den, shows up in “We’re Getting Divorced.” I have no pictures of this room or of our old house since we moved out many years ago. Romina feels that “Sisters Drawing” is my most precious and heartfelt memory out of all of the works that will be displayed.

Anna Lustberg, "Sisters Drawing" (2019), 47.5 x 36 in., Hahnemühle Fine Art Print.

JG: And how did you come to work with your curator, Romina G. Khan? 

AL: Romina and I were colleagues in a contemporary art gallery here in NYC, working together on a small sales team. I always admired and respected her eye for curation. Romina has an unrelenting enthusiasm and cheered me on every day, even when I was down and difficult to be around. Her assistance was exactly what I needed as the show physically came together.

Anna Lustberg, "Bubby and Papa Met at Schroon Lake 1950" (2019), 24 x 30 in., Hahnemühle Fine Art Print

JG: You once had a drawing a day project on your Instagram. Did that in any way feed into your show?

AL: The “A Drawing A Day” or “Anna Draws Everyday” challenge served as an excellent way to regain my drawing skills, find inspiration in something every day, and develop my style. It ended up becoming a sort of visual diary. My Bubby (Jewish grandmother) has Instagram, and she would view my drawings and call or text: “Anna, how’s it going luv? Are you OK? Saw your drawing, just checking on you!” I’d find it funny because the art would either be about something that had already passed or wasn’t about me at all. 

That whole experience played into this show in that I became comfortable summoning up ideas from my life, and just putting them out there. I gained the ability to express certain feelings or ideas and share them with the world, or whoever was seeing them on the Internet.

Anna Lustberg, "Never Drinking Again" (2019), 10 x 10 in., Hahnemühle Fine Art Print.

JG: Do you find that drawing from memory can be therapeutic?

AL: Creating an image with an end result I’m proud of is absolutely therapeutic. The whole point of my art is sharing my perspective and hoping that someone else gets it. For me, that’s the best feeling. I love making connections through my art. I don’t get the same satisfaction if I only draw for myself. WM

Jeffrey Grunthaner

Jeffrey Grunthaner is a writer & artist currently based in Berlin. Essays, articles, poems & reviews have appeared via BOMB, artnet News, The Brooklyn RailHyperallergic, Louffa Press, Drag City Books, & other venues. Recent curatorial projects include the reading & discussion series Conversations in Contemporary Poetics at Hauser & Wirth, West 22nd Street (NY).  

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