“I think my career path feels like a long, slow burn that’s really only just getting started,” says Alannah Farrell, an artist residing in Manhattan. Originally from Kingston and raised in the Catskills – a mountainous and dense forest landscape known for its nature reserve – Alannah is a New Yorker through and through, and someone who’s always nurtured an interest in the arts. In fact, art is an heirloom of sorts, with both their mother and grandmother being painters and their younger niece who’s recently found a path in the field of visual arts. “So it’s probably some heavy nurture and nature influence there,” Alannah tells It’s Nice That.
As a child, Alannah found it easiest to express their thoughts and emotions through creativity. Putting pencil to paper wasn’t only a remedial activity, but was also the easiest and cheapest way of producing a piece of art. “I think if you’re poor as a kid, drawing is excellent because it doesn’t require many tools or expensive equipment,” they add. After a brief moment trialling out a few other outlets, like dance and music, their obsession with paint soon flourished. “Also, my rhythm with musical instruments might’ve been a bit off, so that put the kibosh on music.”
Alannah tested out photography too but realised quickly that painting was a better way of translating the ideas formulating in their mind. It’s quite the contrast, in the way that photography requires a certain level of editing and filtering when taking a singular image. But the slower process of applying paint to canvas drew them in unconditionally. After college, Alannah was accepted to the Cooper Union (which offers grant degrees in art, architecture and engineering), and even to this day, they feel incredibly lucky. Then, the artist found themselves working multiple odd jobs to support their craft, ranging from nightlife to babysitting, jobs in a bike and grocery shop, modelling, an artist and photographer’s assistant and even a “failed” gyro maker, “the only job I’ve ever been fired from”.
This slow-burning path soon came to a head in 2019. After meeting the painter Alix Bailey and modelling for one of their pieces, Alix inspired Alannah to show the work they’d been cooking up in their bedroom. It wasn’t long until Alannah held a show at The Painting Center in New York, shortly followed by multiple exhibitions with Thierry Goldberg Gallery and several held online over the course of the pandemic. In January of this year, the artist accepted representation with Harper’s Gallery in New York, and there are now plans to launch their first solo show next year. It doesn’t stop quite there, either; alongside various art fairs, there’s also talk of a solo show in June with Anat Ebgi Gallery in LA, plus West Coast representation with the same gallery.
Alannah is finally receiving the recognition they deserve, for their meticulous devotion to the craft is clearly quite extraordinary – the dewy skin, the hazy sheen of the city’s street lights, or the stern stare of the subject. When creating these pieces, a usual working day means that Alannah will be in the company of a sitter, who they’ll draw and paint to utmost perfection. Take Kay (Power) as an example, a powerful portrait of a topless subject covered in tattoos from chest to arms. The sunlight frames the piece artfully as it beams through the curtainless window and bounces off the subject, filling the room with a bright glow. Another piece, The Stalker’s Shadow, depicts a person lounging on a sofa, with a dusky evening as their backdrop. Whatever the narrative for these paintings, each has been devised in accordance with the sitter – telling their personal story through clothes, household items, gestures and expression.
Turning inwards, Alannah also recently completed a “dorky” self-portrait named History of Violence, which alludes to the name of the upcoming show at Anat Ebgi Gallery. “The majority of the time, I’m working with and painting other people,” they say. “When working with others, I want to be respectful of their vulnerability and try to make sure the painting isn’t exploitative of that vulnerability. So the self-portraits I make are a kind of pallet cleanser and an opportunity to be humorous, brash, self-deprecating, disrespectful and face uncomfortable truths.”
“History of Violence has a double layer of meaning. I’m pretty literally depicting a violent past channelled through a fictional present in the painting. And as a show title, I think it spoke to the collective experiences each individual I’ve painted has been through in one or multiple ways in their lifetime, and the more recent past of 2020/2021 when they sat for me. We all, in one way or another, come from a history of violence.”
There’s a lot to be read within Alannah’s paintings, and the artist illustrates these stories with modesty. Nothing is plainly obvious, and the experiences and memories of their subjects – and even their own – are marked through the subtler details, like books, cigarettes and a burning candle. With such an active year already taking place, expect to uncover more of these narratives in many venues: Frieze, New York; a show in Anat Ebgi Gallery and with Harper’s Gallery.
Alannah Farrell: The Stalker's Shadow (Angel, Lower East Side) (Copyright © Alannah Farrell, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.