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Interview: Balancing the dark and delicate with Annita Maslov

The Melbourne artist talks about her process from pen to paper (or skin)

Artist Annita Maslov’s beautifully magical characters feel like ghost souls of strong, female artists Vali Myers and Frida Kahlo. In her drawings, she weaves snakes around eerie, doll-like girls with flowing hair and endless space for eyes; skulls are drawn on a black background adorned with roses and overflowing treasure; planets orbit around the all seeing eye, cushioned with deathly bees and alluring roses. Her creations are as delicate as they are dark and that’s what has drawn so many people to her work, whether the canvas is paper or skin.

Maslov started out as a freelance illustrator and naturally moved into tattooing as many of her commissioned works were for tattoos. She now works at Heretic Tattoo off Brunswick street in Fitzroy and encourages any budding artists to pursue studio apprenticeships (no matter how tempting it may be to buy a cheap tattoo kit off eBay).

With demand for Maslov’s art going strong, it’s no surprise that she is featuring work in the upcoming ‘Moon Fire’ Occult Group Show at Outré Gallery this Friday. Her intricate pieces for the show draw on the spiritual underworld tapping into vampirism and the concept of being cursed. We caught up with the talented artist to get under the skin of her art and process.

Moon Fire – occult themed group show, August 26 – September 8
Annita Maslov, Sin-Eater, Deerjerk, Courtney Brooke
Outré Gallery
249 Elizabeth Street
Opening night: Friday August 26, 6pm

What inspires your illustrations?

This is always a hard question. It’s quite hard to pinpoint any singular aspects of inspiration. A lot of the imagery in my work are things that I simply find aesthetically or symbolically pleasing, or sometimes, without influence, a concept would just pop into mind that I would think would make an interesting illustration. Most recently I’ve gained quite a bit of inspiration from listening to history podcasts, so some of my more recent work has been of historical figures or based on historical anecdotes.

The pen lines and shading are delicately refined, how did you develop your skill to draw?

I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil, so just years of practice I guess. I remember a few years back I completed a drawing of a girl surrounded by flowers, and I was stoked with the amount of detail in it. Looking at it recently, it’s so simple and underworked (and honestly, not that great). I realised I hadn’t only progressed in technicality, I also got better at seeing my work subjectivity to find areas of improvement. Ironically, the more I draw, the more things I find to improve—but that’s definitely a good thing because my perception is getting better. I think the day I find my work perfect is the day I should stop doing art.

Heretic Tattoo in Fitzroy is your current place of work. How did you get into tattooing?

I did freelance illustration for a while, and quite a lot of the commissioned work I was getting were custom tattoo designs. So that gave me the idea. I then found an apprenticeship and off I went!

For someone looking to get into tattooing, would you have any advice?

Definitely find an apprenticeship—do not buy a kit online and attempt to practice yourself! This rarely ends well, and it discourages tattooists to take you on as an apprentice if you decide to find one.

To get an apprenticeship you definitely need a substantial folio—develop one that shows versatility in style and technical application. Though it definitely helps if you have a developed style that the majority of your folio can consist of.

Could you talk about the work you’ve created for the ‘Moon Fire’ Occult show next Friday at Outré Gallery?

For the most part I’ve exercised the theme in its literal sense. One of my pieces, ‘Mercy’s Heart’, is based on a famous incident in 1892 where an entire family was accused of vampirism. Mercy Brown (depicted in the illustration) was the most well known, and there were rumours and sightings of her wandering through cemeteries and farmlands during the time. The story is quite sad and interesting. Worth reading into if the theme interests you.

Another piece, ‘The Coward’s Curse’, I’ve taken on the theme in a more metaphysical sense with the subject of being cursed. It’s based on The Order of the White Feather, a campaign during WWI where women were encouraged to present a white feather to men not wearing uniform to shame them into enlisting. A lot of men given the feather had reasons not to enlist – health, age, or otherwise – but would then lie about prerequisites to enlist in order to negate the perception of cowardice. It just seemed as though upon being presented with the feather, you’re pretty much cursed into a negative situation; you’re deemed a coward and mentally tormented if you don’t enlist, or you deal with the horrors of war if you do.

How has your social media following helped or hindered your art?

It has helped me tremendously! I gain most of my clients for tattooing through social media. I also receive so many kind and inspiring messages and comments. It definitely keeps me humbled. I can’t see any way it has hindered my art.

Are there any things which clients do that make getting tattooed harder or easier?

In terms of the design process, it definitely helps if there’s an element of trust involved for me to design what would work best with their concept. Sometimes if clients have a complex idea with a very specific composition it makes it hard for me to generate essence in the design.

For the actual process of getting tattooed, it definitely helps if they have eaten sufficiently on the day, are well rested, and not shaking from overdose of caffeine. Certain areas are definitely more painful than others, but clients don’t need to feel obligated to finish the session if it’s too painful—another session can be scheduled if need be.

Do you have a holy grail tattoo that you would like to get or to create on someone else?

Hmm, no holy grail. Though I would love to tattoo some more art nouveau-esque designs, Mitelli’s etching inspired stuff, and even 18th century architectural drawings.

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