Melbourne artist Frances Cannon on reclaiming their body and putting feelings onto paper.
“Some days I am a gentle breeze
I am not ashamed of my tenderness
Other days I am a storm
I am not afraid of my strength”
- Frances Cannon
Stepping into the world of multidisciplinary artist Frances Cannon can be likened to the feeling of a warm hug. The type that linger a little longer; hold a touch tighter. Their work is threaded with a mutual understanding that can be seen, but not always heard. Immersed in a story that is inherently theirs, but one that is reverberated through a common experience.
Diaristic by nature, Frances’ work examines the intricacies of body-love and body-loathing; anxiety, relationships, sex and sexuality, gender and bodily functions through a queer lens. Recognised largely for their nuanced black and white illustrations but equally celebrated for large-scale, colourful ink paintings, they speak to an online community of over 200k followers with unparalleled honesty. In many ways, that is enough.
PHOTOGRAPHY Jade Florence
Tell me about your childhood and how your experiences growing up have influenced your work?
I grew up in Thailand; my parents moved for work when I was a baby. My family was very religious, and a lot of my current art unpacks my feelings towards Christianity, through a queer intersectional feminist lens. I grew up with a pretty poor relationship towards my body, always being the biggest kid and constantly comparing myself to my peers. My work started leaning towards body love and fat positivity when I was in my early 20’s and has been quite literally life changing. Up until then I drew the ‘ideal’ body (read: thin, white, blonde, cis) but purposefully choosing to draw bodies that looked like mine really changed my relationship towards myself for the better.
When did you first start creating art?
My parents always supported my creativity, which I am so grateful for. I have been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil. Art has been a part of my everyday life for as long as I can remember, and I have always used it as a way to sort through my experiences and try and understand them. I don’t think I ever had a specific moment when I realised it was my ‘calling’, as art has always been something that I have prioritised and pushed towards. I always knew that what I ended up doing would have to involve creativity in some form. I feel very lucky that I can call being an artist my full-time job.
How do you find magic in everyday moments and does this often translate into your work?
I try to sketchbook as much as I can, no matter the mood. I put my feelings onto paper as I’m feeling them, so that I can revisit them at a later date and create artwork based on those feelings.
Who are your creative heroes?
My favourite artist of all time is Louise Bourgeois. I love how she used her trauma, her family, her highs and lows to create incredibly evocative and emotional work. I don’t think there is a single piece by Louise Bourgeois that I don’t love and connect with. I just adore all her work. Some other artists I draw inspiration from are Tracey Emin, Nancy Spero, Frida Kahlo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Ana Mendieta, and Kara Walker.
Are you confident with speaking your truth in real life?
My best work comes from a space of honesty and introspectiveness. I find my favourite drawings are right out of my sketchbook and start out as a private moment processing an intense emotion. It’s scary sharing such intimate artwork, but I feel very blessed that other people connect so strongly with my inner thoughts and emotions.
Do you have a specific space where you feel like you create your best work?
I should say my studio, but I think it’s on public transport. I just feel like I really get in my feelings when I’m on my way somewhere.
Are you dreamer or a realist?
Oh dear, a bit of both I think. At my core I am a dreamer, but life has made me more nihilistic of late. Sorry to be a downer but life is hard…
PHOTOGRAPHY Jay Davies
Do you have any traditions or rituals that you hold onto?
I love my morning ritual of getting up and leaving my phone in my room while I make breakfast and read a book. It means I get at least an hour in the morning without my phone, and I begin my day in a calm and quiet space. This is a habit I formed in lockdown and I’m going to try to keep it up as much as I can.
Much of your work is black and white illustrations. Was it a conscious choice to not include colour?
No, not really. I think my black and white work reads better on a small screen, so I tend to post them on social media more than my paintings. But my colourful ink paintings are just as much a part of my practice as my illustrations. Best of Both Worlds by Hannah Montana plays in the background…
Your work is multidisciplinary. Have you always felt a connection between imagery and words?
Yes. I love comic books and graphic novels, and I also just love reading and the written word, so it came naturally to use text in my work too.
How do you decide which illustrations become large-scale paintings and which remain as smaller drawings?
If I plan something too much, I end up hating it and feeling like it’s overworked. Usually, my paintings have nothing to do with existing illustrations, they kind of have a life of their own and come about super organically.
How are you feeling creatively, in 2021?
I still feel like I’m warming up creatively this year. I found lockdown very stifling for my creativity, so I think I’m still trying to get used to making things often and using my studio a lot.
It’s one thing as an artist to create a piece of art, but how does your connection to that creation change when you see it tattooed on others?
I love it when people get my work tattooed. I think tattoos are such an important part of body love and an important way to reclaim your body and make it feel like yours again. It is such an honour that people choose my work to keep on their skin forever.
Describe your work in three words...
‘Anxious Teen Diary’ or ‘Self Love Letter’. Or maybe a combination of both.
All artwork courtesy of Frances Cannon (@frances_cannon).
PHOTOGRAPHY Jade Florence