Every year the Griffin Art Prize not only highlights some of the most exciting emerging contemporary artists in the UK, it gives the winning artist a real platform to step up their career. This year’s shortlist was female dominated, with eight women artists in the ten-strong group, so it seems only right the winner, Anna Liber Lewis, is brazenly feminist in her subject matter and attitude to the art world.
“It’s a fascinating moment in time,” she tells It’s Nice That. “Feminism is making strides, and as a painter I’m preoccupied with what it means to be a woman.” Citing Maria Lassnig as an influence, Anna’s work explores the female form and orgasm, sexuality, the “manifestation of sensation”, defiance and desire, and how men depict women in art. She also says she’s spurred on by misogyny. “Of course I love the work of Picasso and Matisse but I also want my work to say, ‘fuck you, I can do that and be a woman’. Screw Lucian Freud – I can be a good mother and a good painter. When I was at the RCA surrounded by men, I painted a lot of cocks because I wanted to have the biggest cock in the room. You could say I’m inspired by bravado.”
Anna studied fine art at Central Saint Martins, graduating in 2001, and the RCA, graduating in 2015. In between, she had a son and raised him as a single mother. “I couldn’t see the dream any more, it was financially very difficult,” she says. “I’ve had trauma in my personal history and my work hints at that, but not too much. It all comes from the gut. I think, being a painter, it’s useful to have painful life experience,” she jokes.
Describing her process as very physical, “like a boxer”, Anna says she often throws the canvas around, plays with painting at varying paces, and lets intuition take hold. Over the years her canvases have grown to allow her practice to involve her whole body, and for her paintings to reflect those gestures. “I’ve realised how important the act of painting is to me.”
As this year’s Griffin Art Prize winner Anna will receive a £5,000 prize plus studio rent up to £2,000, materials, mentoring, technical support and an exhibition at Griffin Gallery.