Self-portrait by Frances Cannon.

Self-portrait by Frances Cannon.

This month’s Bad Girl Painter is Frances Cannon, a one-woman self-love warrior from Melbourne, Australia. Last month’s interviewee, Atong Atem, referenced Frances’ work as an inspiration to her. It seemed very fitting to feature Frances this month, as I too have been a long-time admirer of her powerful, unapologetic work featuring women campaigning for respect—not just from others but from themselves. 

Frances and I discussed the radical notion of self-love, how it’s OK to have “bad” days, and Frances’s upcoming solo exhibition.

MINNA GILLIGAN: Frances, I’m finding it hard to get a first question out before saying something along the lines of thank you for truly inspiring a radical perspective change in regards to myself and my body.

FRANCES CANNON: Aw, thank you so much! I really love your work as well.

You’ve really championed your cause of self-love in a friendly, forgiving way—and because of this, reached a lot of women. Do you feel a sense of pride or warmth in knowing that your artwork and overarching message has reached and helped a number of people? Does this feeling help you on your own personal journey as an artist?

I feel so honored and lucky to have such a wide audience that connects to my work. It is such a beautiful thing knowing that my drawings can brighten someone’s day by making them feel powerful, or help them acknowledge their beauty, or encourage boldness and bravery when faced with everyday experiences. I definitely feel inspired to work and put my work on social media knowing that so many people love seeing my work! This connection from woman to woman is so very special and inspiring. 

Has your artwork always conveyed messages of self-love and acceptance, or did this come gradually as you navigated your own experiences with negativity surrounding your self and your body?

It definitely came gradually. I have always drawn and been creative, but I only began focusing my work on women’s issues such as health, body acceptance, and mental health in the past two to three years. It was spurred on when I got tired of treating myself poorly because I was not the media’s definition of beauty. I began obsessively drawing women who looked like me, and each time I drew these women (based on myself and my body) I felt more confident in myself and my body. I’ve really found something that I am so inspired by, and I think that my art will revolve around these themes for a really long time. 

Your drawings are immediate—usually black on white—linear portraits of women accompanied by phrases written to lift up the viewer, and the artist I presume! Have you always used this simplistic but effective method to communicate your larger message? What is it about the format of drawing that you like or find successful?

I use a variety of mediums in my artist practice, including acrylic, gouache, ink, watercolor, and photography, but I always have a sketchbook going. I am always drawing. These sketchbook drawings are the majority of what I post online. When I am drawing, I don’t plan or sketch, so it is very immediate and honest. I like to embrace any mistakes I make when I draw. I find those “mistakes” actually make the work stronger. I have always incorporated text in my sketchbook drawings, like a diary, but only within the past year have I really let the text do a lot of the work! I think my drawings paired with the text are even more powerful. 

I see a great deal of you in your drawings; however, they are also applicable to so many women. Your figures are an archetype featuring many elements, with the ability to resound with the masses. Are your drawings self-portraiture, or “group portraits” of all the women you know and are inspired by?

That’s a really great way of describing it! Group portraits! I love that. To answer your question, it is a bit of both. The figure itself that I am constantly drawing is based on me and my body, but the things that she goes through and experiences are my own, as well as so many other women’s. I think that is why so many people can relate. 

What I like about your version of self-love is that you communicate that it’s OK to have bad days, or inconsistent days, as it’s all a part of a larger journey or lesson. Is there a particular mind-set you like to be in before making work? Personally, I find it hard to make work when I’m not in a calm or considered state of mind—in other words, on the bad or inconsistent days.

Yes! This part of my work is so important. We are not happy and confident and amazing all the time! That’s just not possible. It is so inherently human to have moments of self-doubt or self-loathing. We all have bad days, weeks, or months. Acknowledging that is such an important step of healing. If we just pretend that everything is OK all the time, we will never heal or move forward from sadness or painful experiences. 

I make my best work when I am focused and passionate about something. So if there is something I really want to communicate that particular day, I will focus my mind on that topic or scene, and those drawings and paintings are my best. I still never plan the paintings though. I work immediately and fluidly. 

I really enjoy your ink drawings, as they tend to incorporate fluid washes or puddles of color coupled with your signature black line drawing. Do you prefer to work with something more forgiving like ink or paint, or do you respond to the instantaneous result you can achieve with line drawing? Maybe you like both?

I love both, and my work feels the fullest when it involves both drawing and painting. 

Do you have a studio where you make your work? Or, perhaps you draw from you bedroom? Can you describe the place where the magic happens?

I have a studio at my university [RMIT University in Melbourne] where I do a majority of my work. A lot of the big paintings that I do are done there. When I am home or traveling, I tend to draw more, just on small sheets of paper or in my sketchbook, as I have less space to do big stuff. 

The phrases you include in your work are very powerful. One I have taken on as a type of mantra is “Self-Love Club.” Do you write these phrases or meditations yourself? Where do you get your inspiration for them?

Most of them I come up with myself, but sometimes I will incorporate a quote that I heard, or something that one of my friends has said. I’m currently working on a project where I asked people on Instagram to send in anonymous phrases on what it is like to have anxiety and mental illness. I’ve been using those texts in my work. 

What is your relationship with social media like? And how do you respond to any negativity you may come across on your various platforms?

I love social media—especially Instagram. I think it is a great tool for artists to show their work, and it has been an important aspect of my own practice. The majority of feedback or comments I receive on social media are overwhelmingly positive, so I try not to let the occasional negative comment get to me. It’s so unimportant and I haven’t got time to dwell on that kind of negativity. DELETE + BLOCK 4EVER. 

Could you name some artists you draw inspiration from?

Contemporary women artists who I will forever look up to include Louise Bourgeois, Frida Kahlo, Ana Mendieta, Marlene Dumas, and Nancy Spero.

Contemporary Instagram artists who I recommend following include:

and so many more! I wish I could go on, but I’ll stop there! 

Do you have any particular aims for yourself and your art practice in the future?

I have a solo exhibition coming up! It’s titled “Feeling Blue” and it will feature many large ink paintings, which I made inspired by the phrases I previously discussed, in which anonymous people described mental illness. You can find more info about that show here or on my Instagram! I’m really excited for this show. 

What are three words that describe your artwork?

Honest, playful, unapologetic. ♦