Jersey City-based artist Ana Benaroya is known for her dazzling paintings of muscle-bound women made in eye-popping Fauvist tones—think blue skin, green hair, and every color variation in between. The women in the pictures bristle with confidence: they ride horses, stride through ocean waves, and speed down highways in convertibles, cigarettes dangling out of their mouths. And all this while totally nude, with writhing musculature on full display.
More than the languorous tradition of female nudes throughout art history, these women radiate kinetic energy, which Benaroya says captures the intensity of lesbian desire. There are also references to comic book heroes (Benaroya spent a decade working as an illustrator), Tom of Finland’s homoerotic male figures, and the exaggerated physiques of Antonio Del Pollaiuolo’s famed Renaissance engraving, Battle of the Nudes.
The artist’s new solo show, “Swept Away,” which inaugurates Venus Over Manhattan’s new downtown location, is now on view through May 21. And—you heard this here first, folks—the gallery is now fully representing the artist.
We caught up with the artist in her Jersey City studio, where she told us about her favorite chair and much, much more.
What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?
Aside from the obvious of paint and paintbrush, I love my little jumpsuit that I wear when I paint. I’ve had it for like five years now. It was once all white and now it’s covered in different kinds of paints and gesso. It’s not only practically helpful, but it helps me get in the mindset when I enter the studio, to have this uniform.
Other than that, I have this orange chair that I love to just sit in and look at my paintings when I’m trying to figure out what to do next. I would say those two items.
What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?
What I look forward to most is uninterrupted time in the studio, which is such a generic response, but it’s true! Of course, I’m very much enjoying talking to you, but I love a day where I can just go to the studio without any lunch plans or meetings or even social plans in the evening. It’s nice to just have a day that’s just a solid day.
I’ve heard that you like to paint in themes. What are the themes you were thinking of when you were working on “Swept Away”?
Yes. For all my solo shows, I like having a theme that I work with it, even though I’m depicting these characters that reappear throughout all my shows. The theme for “Swept Away” is women and water. Initially, I was drawn to water because of certain parallels to the way I paint women, with their bodies in different colors and shapes that feel very malleable and free. I like thinking about water in that way as well, how it is formless and very malleable and soft yet powerful.
I liked that relationship. I was also looking at paintings by Renoir and Bonnard and thought that even in art history, there’s a lineage of women appearing by water, cleaning themselves, or being reborn.
Then, on a personal level, I was thinking about myself, my feelings as a woman or as a young girl in a bathing suit by water, going to the beach or a pool, and all the feelings that come with that. So all the paintings deal with those ideas from various angles.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts? Do you prefer silence?
More music than silence. My paintings are inspired by lyrics and song titles. Sometimes I even mine songs for even ideas. “Swept Away” I initially just thought of as an interesting title. But in working on the show, I found out there was a Diana Ross song called “Swept Away,” which was very appropriate, even in terms of what Diana Ross is singing about.
Another drawing in the show is of a woman smoking and crying; that’s called Judy’s Turn to Cry, which is the name of a Lesley Gore song. Lesley Gore is one artist whose music I come back to again and again. Another painting shows two women who have swimming caps on and it’s called , which I named after the duet version by Bette Midler and Linda Ronstadt. I’m queer and a lot of the paintings deal with those issues. As a lesbian, so many times people think my girlfriend is my sister, which is the strangest thing. So I like that song for that reason.
The music I listen to, though, is pretty all over the place. I listen to a lot of disco, music from the ‘50s and ‘60s like the Beach Boys and Lesley Gore, and a whole lot more.
What snack food could your studio not function without?
I don’t really snack. I always eat lunch, but I put on gloves to paint and I think it would be very toxic if I was snacking.
If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?
Artistic inspiration or life inspiration?
Let’s say life inspiration.
Pictures of Celine Dion, pictures of Wawa—I love Wawa. Images from some of the artists I admire. The mood board would be very colorful, like my paintings. And lots of comic book and superhero imagery.