The young artist on his relationship with the persons he portrays, what he finds frightening in his own work, and the power of filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky.
There is an unspoken story developing in artist Anthony Cudahy’s body of work. A girl floats in the air. Two boys sit on a bedroom floor together, but refuse to glance at one another. A naked woman lifts her torso towards the ceiling in a private moment of ecstasy. These moments, filled with immense energy and color, invoke a moving emotional response. As Cudahy has stated, “My personal work explores themes of isolation, memory, and hope.” His paintings and drawings are filled with a cast of characters that are searching for something; they just don’t know what.
—Justin Alvarez for Guernica
Guernica: In your personal statement, you mention that “every piece belongs to another in a continuing dialogue.” What themes are you exploring—or at least attempting to explore—within this evolving dialogue? How is your work in conversation with one another?
Anthony Cudahy: Lately I’ve been making paintings that focus on transience. Moments from photographs, taken and reconstructed, attempting to get at the core of them. To combat their fleeting qualities with a sort of solidity in the new image. This is ultimately open to failure, I think, but the desire to take a moment and extend it remains. To attempt to connect to the subject (more a picture of a lost moment than a portrait) is to attempt the impossible. Attempting this is part of the work.
At the same time, this isn’t all there is to the pieces. There are reasons I chose to paint. I like the physical nature of painting. It’s not as boring as that makes it sound; it’s constantly a challenge. You can go into a sort of trance, being forced to be present and thinking for an extended period. So there’s that conversation between the pieces, developing and experimenting with the paint. The conversation occurs because no one piece is an end in itself. Each builds and references past pieces.
Guernica: What compels you to create? Where do you find inspiration?.
Anthony Cudahy: Seeing traces of truth in the work of other artists’ moves me to create. The idea that you can convey something human. There are painters that get to this level like Francis Bacon and Gerhard Richter, but you could also get it in reading David Foster Wallace. Films like The Mirror by Tarkovsky are filled with life, but also extend indefinitely. It has the power to change your day-to-day life.
Guernica: Your work is filled with a lively energy—the energetic brush strokes and broad fields of bright color—but at the same time feels immensely intimate. What is your relationship with the persons you portray in your work?
Anthony Cudahy: I paint from many found family photographs, but also will take my own photographs of people I know. Then there is also outside sources—found images I have no relationship to whatsoever. I don’t discriminate between the three. These aren’t portraits of the people. It’s more about the space between that can’t be bridged, despite attempts by me to understand or connect. The intimacy comes from that attempt, but I don’t know if you can ever be completely intimate with a subject.
Guernica: Are you ever frightened by what your art reveals?
Anthony Cudahy: I believe that the work is getting there. There is a potential of terror, but I don’t think it’s been reached yet.
Guernica: When is a piece done?
Anthony Cudahy: It’s a sudden event. There’s work and work and work that doesn’t seem to have an end and then the pieces start to align so quickly and it feels right to call a piece finished. There’s also an immediate desire to start the next piece.
Guernica: What’s next for you?
Anthony Cudahy: I simply want to continue to make work productively. If I think too much about the future, I get overwhelmed and stall. There are projects I’m working on outside of the paintings and the drawings. They include a collaborative book I’m producing with my friend, Kris Mukai, that will showcase some artists we are excited by alongside our own work. This should be printed early next year.
Anthony’s work was featured with our inaugural flash fiction piece, Lauren Spohrer’s “The Numbers,” part of our new series designed to showcase up-and-coming writers and artists on the Daily.
Born in Florida and sweltered for eighteen years, artist Anthony Cudahy currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. His work has been featured in the New Yorker, Bloomberg View, Vice Magazine, the Deal Magazine, Annalemma Magazine, American Illustration, and more. More of his work can be seen at anthonycudahy.com.
Justin Alvarez is a blog and new media editor at Guernica. Read more about him here.