Vince: Annie, would you tell me about your background in art? Did you maybe melt crayons as a kid and smear multi-color soup on walls?
Annie: I was always creative as a kid . . . kinda weird though . . . I used to shave the heads of my Barbie dolls, wrap them in torn-up towels like mummies, and make death masks out of construction paper for them. I was always into Egyptian history. It always fascinated me. But I've been drawing and writing for as long as I can remember.
Vince: Wow . . . Barbie-mummies. That's way better than melting crayons! What about after you grew up?
Annie: In May , I graduated from UL [University of Louisiana at Lafayette] for printmaking. I also did a lot of casting and other metalworking while I was there and I enjoyed that more than anything. There is something very personal about sculpting something out of wax and casting them. I always ended up with these intimate size sculptures that people wanted to hold and move around in their hands, which was the point. I want to get people reconnected with art instead of the look, don't touch culture we're living in now.
I recently completed my tattoo certifications and sent off to the state to get my commercial body art license . . . when I get that, I'll be able to tattoo full time at Bizarre Ink where I've been apprenticing. I suppose that's one obvious way to connect people to art in the literal sense. The shop is on downtown Jefferson Street where all the bars are [in Lafayette, Louisiana]. I've struggled a lot getting the customers to care about the art on their bodies instead of just wanting some cursive font with the name of their boyfriend.
Vince: Tell me more about your tattoo art. How did you get into that?
Annie: I was always interested in tattoos and since I've always been a weird kid and an artist, I fell naturally into the underbelly of culture. Just like I'm intrigued by Egyptian history, I find the culture and history of body art to be intriguing as well. But this underbelly is not the most attractive thing in the world. I have to spread my influence from the dregs up. When someone wants to enter the tattoo business, they have to swim through a sea of junkies, thieves, liars and coattail riders. It's so sad but so true. But that's where you separate the real artists from the "I love Miami Ink" wannabes. How much are you willing to put up with to be the best artist you can be? Luckily I'm apprenticing under two artists who have paired up to see me succeed: James Aaron Puckett and Andy Boudoin. It's been a terrifying experience. Simply because normally I can pick up a new art form, manipulate it, and make something beautiful whether I have a lot of experience with that medium or not. It's not like that with skin. I've never picked up an art form and sucked at it . . . until recently. But I'm learning fast and have great mentors. They want to see what I'm capable of. Once I'm given the basics and the right guinea pigs I think I'll be capable of a lot more than what I've been doing.
Vince: I'm guessing you also have tattoos, then?
Annie: I have several, some of which I will be covering up and redoing. The first I ever got is still my favorite . . . I got f-holes like from a violin on my back to resemble Man Ray's old, famous photomanipulation "Le Violon d'Ingres." I really can't say what it is about this artist that I love so much. Maybe it's the fact that he was a definite beginning to the art that we see modern artists of my age doing today. We just use photoshop now instead of paints.
Annie: I work back and forth between making art for the fun of it and trying to say something with it. I'm really interested in personal relationships and how people treat one another, and how the way someone treats me and vice versa directly affects how I respond to life and myself.
One of my tattoos is on my left hip. It says "Scapegoat" and has goat horns around it. A lot of my art is based on the scapegoat concept. Traditionally the scapegoat was a literal goat that Christian villagers would symbolically place their sins on. They would then take it into the woods and slaughter it almost like a sacrifice. Very pagan in ritual, to be honest.
I have always been the one to work too hard and sacrifice my own well-being so someone else didn't have to feel so bad about their wrongdoing. I hate to go too far into my personal life, but most of my senior thesis in school was based around this man I had fallen in love with. There was something charming and charismatic about him. But he was addicted to pain killers and used my feelings for him as a way to get away with hurting me and the people around me both financially and emotionally. The soft-hearted compassionate artist in me wanted to believe he could change. I guess that's my fault for hoping I could manipulate his disaster of a life like watercolors on a canvas and make something beautiful out of it. I almost slaughtered myself doing this and have tried valiantly since then to not be that person . . . but alas, I guess it's the artist/mother instinct.
Vince: Glad you were able to escape that situation. Okay, so how do these ideas interact with "The Blue Guitarist"?
Annie: Well, "The Blue Guitarist" falls more into the category of "just for fun." And it's also a tribute piece to Picasso, a thanks for what he has contributed to the art world.
I do portraits of my friends for the same reason. I'm about to start another one. I do a lot of portraits of my artist friends as an appreciation for what they contribute to our local art community. The next piece will be of my friend Cootie Von Ghoul. Obviously that's her artist name and not her real name, but I always call her Cootie. She's a beautiful woman and I won't mind staring at her face while I do it. ;-)
Vince: One thing I find so moving about "The Blue Guitarist" is the shade of blue you used. It's so different from the blue Picasso used in his "Old Guitarist" painting. Can you say more about that color? And how does color affect you as an artist, maybe especially as a tattoo artist?
Annie: Well, I think Picasso's version is a little more dreary, and mine, however very blue, is slightly more hopeful. Maybe hopeful isn't a good word for it, but I don't think it invokes the same sad feeling as Picasso's choice of blue. I do enjoy a certain amount of vibrancy in color when I choose to use it. I'm primarily a black and white kind of girl but my color drawings and paintings tend to use really bright colors. As far as tattoo-wise, colors tend to be brighter there and maybe that's why I'm attracted to that. When you're working on flesh, if you're not using just black and grey, you use the most vibrant colors possible. Also, colors don't react the same way over flesh tones as they would over white so you have to choose a more exaggerated color palette. I'm just very prone to using exaggerated color.
Vince: In some facebook interchange we had recently, you mentioned being involved in a community of artists where you are. How does that affect your work?
Annie: It greatly affects my work, especially since people have their own taste. It's this community of artists that encourages me to pursue my own work and they appreciate it for what it is. My quirky style of art is not offputting to them since they too are rather eccentric with their work.
But the art that sells here, that upper middle-class white housewives want, is
The other artists here just get it and when I'm amongst them I know I can just make art the way I want to make it. Recently I started making Voodoo dolls which has been a more enjoyable way to tap into the old New Orleans culture that is still prevalent today.
Vince: Where did your pseudonym "Annie E. Existence" come from?
Annie: "Annie" is just the last part of my first name . . . and there is a small part in a song by TOOL which mentions the name "Atrophy Annie," so I took that.
Normally, when a name is written out, formally, the middle name is represented with an initial. The "E" stands for "Enigma," which holds the meaning of mystery, and not knowing what the middle "E" stands for immediately is part of that . . . and I will always be a mystery even to myself because as an artist there a lot of things I am constantly discovering about myself. I've figured out how far my tolerance for abuse from others goes. And by abuse, I mean people taking advantage of my kindness, backstabbing me, or using me as a stepping stone to get something else they want. I've found out I have a high tolerance for these things, but my tolerance for seeing someone else get abused is very low. Also, I've struggled most of my life with depression and anxiety and I didn't discover until recently what these things really meant for me. I was constantly terrified that I would create some sort of social blunder, so I would isolate myself. Once I got old enough to understand these emotions I was able to see an episode (panic attacks or sudden drop in mood) coming. I can't prevent these things for sure but I've been able manage my breathing, calm down my racing heart, and remind myself that it will pass. It's more of a biological problem and I'm not just crazy. This has been the most important revelation for me over the last couple of years. But I'm still learning ways to deal with it.
And "Existence" . . . well, that holds a lot of meaning for me. When I was struggling the hardest, battling constant depression and anxiety, it was hard to find reasons to live. I told myself, "Just exist. That's all I have to do right now."
So when it comes down to it — even when my life is hard and I'm not particularly living for anything — I just have to exist and my purpose will present itself later.
Vince: What aspirations do you have for your art? Where do you think it will go in the future? These are clichéd questions, I know, but we all have wants and desires for our work.
Annie: I'm focused on being a good tattoo artist right now. Here is my favorite tattoo I've done so far.
I did this on my boyfriend and he was willing to be the guinea pig — bless his heart! I was very pleased with what I was able to do when given the chance. That was the first tattoo of its kind that I was able to do. It was more than just font or small band logos. I'm happy for any work I get but even more so when I get to do something fun and more creative.
Also I want to travel and hit the convention circuits and rub elbows with other artists. That is my chance to make a name for myself and immerse myself in the culture where I can learn from artists from all over the world. It's the greatest opportunity coming my way.
Vince: Any last word you want to leave my readers with?
Annie: All I can say at this point, is that my future is unknown like everyone else's. All I can do is learn about the people around me and seize opportunities as they come to me. That's what life is all about: overcoming hardships, loving people, learning as much as possible, and jumping at every opportunity with no regrets.
You can see more of Annie E. Existence's artwork on facebook and deviantArt. I'll leave you with one more digital painting by Annie E. Existence, titled "Emily" (2011).
Would you please leave a comment below? I'd love to hear what you think, and so would Annie. Thanks. Ingat.