Something magical emanates from the gold-leaf work of Sullivan Elaine Anlyan. Safari and desert animals—like zebras and camels—hang near domestic creatures like deer, embellished in bright gold, and some even decorated by colorful harnesses and crowns. Using a combination of pen and ink and paint on canvas, with backgrounds in metal-leaf gilding, Anlyan’s original art is a staple on the walls of fashion boutique Oliver (1055 Military Cutoff Rd.). Plus, her prints are for sale at Edge of Urge (18 Market St.), downtown.
Though she’s done numerous shows at galleries and retail shops across town, lately she’s become one of the hottest selling artists for the national retail chain Anthropologie. We caught up with Anlyan to find out about her year and what lies ahead in 2016.
encore (e): Tell me what you’ve been working on as of late—any new art?
Sullivan Elaine Anlyan (SEA): As of late I have been working on a lot of new things. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal what they are yet! I hate to be so cryptic, I just have to be sort of secretive until it’s a done deal.
I will say that the process has required a lot of loosening up. Everything about my style tends to be extremely controlled. I use a fine-tipped calligraphy pen to cover canvases an inch at a time. This new project forces me to let go of that control. It’s been such a change—I’m really enjoying it.
e: How many shows did you hold in 2015?
SEA: I had two solo shows in 2015, both at Oliver—one in the summer and one for the holidays. I love doing shows at Oliver; I feel fashion and art go hand-in-hand, and I am a huge fan of [boutique owner] Kelly Oliver’s aesthetic.
For this year’s holiday show, I brought in 11 new pieces. It’s a giant space, so we kept what was still hanging from the summer show and pushed it to the back. I wanted the gold to be everywhere; it looked really festive.
e: Speaking of art and fashion, you’ve been busy with Anthropologie. What work are they currently featuring, and how has your relationship with them grown since your partnership began?
SEA: I have been extremely busy with Anthropologie in the last year. In November they released two of my new print series: one is a zodiac series and the other is an alphabet/monogram series, featuring the collective names for animals, like a flamboyance of flamingos or a zeal of zebras. The monogram series was released in the United States only, but the zodiac series was released in the United States and Europe.
Also in November the American and European Anthropologies released myriad holiday home goods featuring my designs, including a large wall-hanging, ornaments, an advent calendar, coasters, drawer pulls, and a set of gift tags. They really did such a fabulous job.
I feel very fortunate to be working with Anthropologie. I appreciate their hand-made aesthetic, and their commitment to working with artists to achieve that one-of-a-kind quality, for which they are so well-known. Since the release of my first print series two years ago, I have done multiple artist collaborations with them, including this year’s holiday collection, and last year’s T-shirt series. I’m excited for what 2016 will bring!
e: You’re known for the gold leaf aesthetic; are you exploring new techniques for the new year?
SEA: I am definitely looking into changing some things in 2016. I’ve got some new, conceptual ideas, but I’m sure I’ll be sneaking some gold into almost everything. I just can’t help myself!
e: Your animal works are signature, but have you ventured into other subject matter?
SEA: In the past my work hasn’t contained quite as much animal imagery, but it’s something to which I always go back. I wish I had an explanation more eloquent than “I love animals,” but honestly I think that’s it. Anyone who knows me [knows] my love for our four-legged friends verges on the pathological. I think, from what I can glean from social media, there has been a sea change in the human mindfulness toward the lives and suffering of animals who cannot speak up for themselves. It is something I am very passionate about, and so I will always paint them.
e: What was the best part of your 2015 and how has it inspired you as an artist?
SEA: 2015 was such a big year for me. There were so many new processes and challenges involved with moving from artist to small business, and negotiating the corporate business environment. In reaching these goals, I achieved a newfound sense of confidence, which has bolstered my creative process. It’s so encouraging to see other artists in Wilmington making the leap, and pursuing art as a business.
e: What’s the best part of being a career artist—and the most challenging?
SEA: The best part is my independence and being my own boss while still getting to do what I love everyday. Time management and not burning myself out are challenging. I think all small business owners struggle with keeping a healthy work balance, and it’s tricky to know when you need to recharge.
e: If you could paint the perfect 2016, what would it look like?
SEA: In 2016 I hope to continue to grow my business and make new original art, as well as focus on my commission work. As always I want my children to have a happy and safe year, and my New Year’s resolution is to travel and surf more.