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Anna May Henry

Inspired by the everyday, Anna May Henry's unconventional still life compositions reflect an ongoing search for belonging, healing and self-love.

Anna May Henry - No Name Print III

Anna May Henry, No Name Print III, 2019. Limited Edition Risograph Print.

A graduate of OCAD U's Integrated Media program, Anna May Henry is an artist and illustrator. She practices a wide array of art forms including painting, publications, digital drawings, ceramics, murals and more. Her DIY approach has found a home in zine/print fairs, online platforms and local community spaces around Toronto. 

She approaches traditional still life compositions in unconventional ways and media, striving to canonize everyday foods and familiar objects. Through her work, she relates and sees the shortcomings of today’s labour market, the personal struggle of “adulting” in the 21st century and the ongoing search for belonging, healing and self-love in the midst of such uncertainty.

Anna May Henry - A Contemplation (painting)

Anna May Henry, A Contemplation, 2018. Gouache.

AGO: What was the inspiration for this artwork or series?

Henry: After I graduated and had spent a few years feeling unsettled as an aspiring performance and video artist, I decided to rediscover watercolour painting on a whim. I started very simply by doing still life studies of things around the house, mainly food items. As I continued these little contemplations on food, I asked myself what was the underlying pull to this particular subject matter. I was drawn to food because of the story it told, and for me that story was one of growing up with low income and how it shaped my life as an adult. I noticed I was obsessed with depicting budget foods… the most obvious one for many Canadians being the No Name brand. The simple and iconic yellow and black packaging became a blank canvas for me to explore themes of how financial struggle has informed my sense of self-worth, as well as my journey towards acceptance and healing. 

AGO: Tell us about a place or a space where you most love making your work?

Henry: I love being at home! I don’t have any type of fancy set-up, just a little corner in a room. I have a desk set up where I do a lot of my shipping and computer work, as well as a little ceramics table where I make handbuilt pieces. Working in digital drawing has been a nice break in routine because I can take my studio (i.e. iPad) anywhere (most often bed or couch!). In the summer, I was building ceramic pieces outside which was quite dreamy. 

Anna May Henry - Yes Vase

Anna May Henry, Yes Vase, 2019. Stoneware.

AGO: Are you in dialogue with any other artists or creative peers about your practice? If so, how does this dialogue feed your work?

Henry: I’m lucky to have brilliant ceramic artist Wendy Lisa Nichol as a neighbour. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been taking long “treat walks” (involves walking and treats). Wendy is generous with sharing her skill and knowledge and I see her as a mentor in many ways… I think there are a lot of others in Toronto who feel the same! We talk about process, as well as creating the art world we want to live in. 

I have great chats with Chaddy-Ann Newton whenever we cross paths. Last time I saw him we talked about the freedom of being artists outside of the approval of institutions and art-world gatekeepers, good shows to watch while drawing, and his favourite markers. I love Chaddy’s spirit! He reminds me that art-making is fun and nourishing, and can be whatever we choose it to be. 

I work closely with Jenny and Jesjit of Colour Code PrintingI’m always introduced to new artists and ideas through the work they do and I am in awe of the community building that happens through them. They published my recent book, and working with them is always a treat and opportunity for learning.

Follow Anna May Henry @annamayday

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