A childhood fascination with animals has given Sullivan Anlyan a unique approach to her artwork
By KIM HENRY
The bubbly nature of local Wilmington artist Sullivan Anlyan is as vivacious as the gold leaf backgrounds that adorn her paintings. This trademark technique, that Anlyan has been developing for the last seven years has just taken her artwork from the galleries of Wilmington right through the doors of the chic international chain store, Anthropologie.
Born in Durham and raised in Raleigh, Anlyan moved to Wilmington when she was fifteen years old. She grew up within an artistic framework created by her mother, Elaine Anlyan, who paints bright, bold, nautical scenes and her father, Bill Anlyan, who utilizes pen and ink drawing. Building upon this creative back ground, Anlyan studied art at UNC Chapel Hill, concentrating on metal sculpture.
“I think I just wanted to weld,” laughs Anlyan. “I didn’t really find my niche with metal work. I couldn’t quite produce the visions I had in my head...but I did love the welding!” Branching out from this, she continued to explore her artistry when she became a mother to her daughter Kingsley, who is now ten years old, and her son David who is six.
Her first show was in 2006 and consisted of a series of oil paintings of random, plastic children’s animals set within abstract backgrounds. This gradually evolved into a love of drawing and painting real animals, whom Anlyan clearly has a natural affinity with. “I never had dolls as a little girl, only stuffed animals. We had lots of pets growing up and I was always fascinated by their claws and fuzzy paws and infinitely beautiful eyes. There is nothing manipulative or underhanded about animals. They just are who they are and I appreciate that. I could draw the eyes of animals all day long.”
Looking around her studio, this is exactly what she seems to be doing. The floor and walls are covered in drawings, and paintings of all-things-animal. Rabbits with big, floppy ears and huge eyes look out from every corner. Birds perch on the shelves. Then there’s the seahorse, a huge octopus, a giraffe, dogs, deer and various portrayals of animal skulls blanketing the entire room, creating her very own animal world.
“My first rabbits were Buttercup and Marisol,” smiles Anlyan. “They were the best bunny models ever. I like to use my own animals whenever I can. It’s the perfect excuse to get to stare at them as much as I want to. There’s nothing quite like the giant back paws of a rabbit - they are just beautiful to me.” Anlyan currently has two new rabbits, Kevin and Francis, as Buttercup and Marisol (named after the French female artist) passed away in 2013. She also shares her home with Bear the dog, and Spike the cat.
Anlyan’s original depiction of the animal kingdom has evolved into her own unique style. The backgrounds for her images are predominantly covered in gold leaf which creates an almost 3D effect of the actual painting. During one of her earlier exhibitions, which was a series of pen and ink drawings of old churches, she found herself drawing a dove. She then used gold leaf as the background and voila - a pivotal moment in her journey as an artist. “I just really loved how it looked and have been working with this technique ever since. I don’t really go in for ‘dark art.’ I love the rawness and realness of animals, but I also appreciate their beauty and want my paintings to be beautiful.”
This sentiment is reflected by another technique that this prolific artist has developed. Some of Anlyan’s work has floating words as a backdrop for the main image. These words are her own thoughts, prayers and aspirations. You can’t quite read them in their entirety, just the odd word here or there. “I like the idea of putting positivity out there in the world through my art,” says Anlyan. “It doesn’t matter that they can’t be read properly - I know that they are life affirming words and I like the feeling of that.”
Anlyan has also done many pet portraits over the years and still accepts commissions. However, getting her art work into the online world of Anthropologie may just be taking her to the next level. “I feel extremely grateful,” she says. “Wilmington has been so good to me. There is so much talent in Wilmington and I feel very lucky to be an artist in a town that really prides itself in supporting the arts. It’s allowed my work to evolve and now Anthropologie has taken me on, which enables me to reach a broader audience. It’s all very exciting.”
Goals and aspirations for the future? “I’m going to have to go with world domination,” Anlyan says, and out pours her infectious laughter and broad smile once again. Surrounded by orders for Anthropologie, her two beautiful children, Kevin and Francis the rabbits, Bear the dog and Spike the cat, it seems like the positive affirmations inherent in her work may just be doing the trick.