Sitting next to Anna Fruman ’24, I couldn’t help but feel a bit starstruck. I had seen their art weeks in advance and gushed over their command of realism, color, and proportion. To my surprise, Anna said, “I feel like the instinct takes over because years of training and practice made it [that way] … I just love the act of painting itself.”
Entering Swarthmore, Anna was already a highly skilled artist.
“I would say I was trained very traditionally — in the Western definition,” they clarified. “My teacher, who was Korean too, was heavily influenced by the old masters … and my art was rooted in this … naturalism. But she still pushed me to explore. In college, I started experimenting with woodblock prints and graphics … [that are] super flat and [am] trying to combine realism with them into a different way of looking at the body.”
And yet their choice to move towards woodblock printing is intrinsically connected to their major, art history. When Anna started to explore the Japanese exchange occurring during the time of the Impressionists, they noticed a continuity: cultural imperialism.
“I look a lot at twentieth century Korean and Japanese art … and there was this cultural imperialism going on by the West. So I feel I’m inspired by a lot of Korean modernists including Na Hyeseok, a new woman who broke so many stereotypes … and I feel these are areas that really informed my art history interest because they’re very underserved and are a really big part of my identity,” Anna said.
However, they also acknowledge that artists need to know Western tradition to break down its artistic hegemony. “I feel like you can’t really understand how global cultural heritage works unless you really know the Western tradition — but from a more critical way. Why do we hold this up? I feel there’s a lot of value in looking at it, but we also have to acknowledge the darker parts,” they said.
Anna has found a way to combine Western naturalism and East Asian woodblock printing. They explained, “This semester I was really looking at flatter graphic styles, but also woodblock prints. There was something in the inequality of divorcing a body from the physical world and making it more ethereal that I was interested in. I was bouncing between my naturalism grounded [foundations] and the very flat, light, but reduced woodblock printing.”
Recently, they attempted to move back into realism, but found that it was no longer the same. “When I went back to this more naturalistic style … it didn’t feel the way it used to. Now that I’ve tried two approaches, I feel like I can make my own path in between,” they clarified.
As an artist, I could tell that Anna had received classic training. Their form is accurate, even carrying over into their graphic design work. The skin is luminescent, blended intricately, and appears soft, despite visible brushstrokes. Hair is void of dimensionality, flat, and black, which emphasizes the clever shading of the skin. Somehow, Anna finds their distinctive style within Western tradition and Korean influence. Their art is hauntingly beautiful, stuck between personal significance and open interpretation. It seems almost too intimate to look at, but once you open your eyes for a glance, they’ll become glued to the canvas.
When I asked Anna specifically about their artistic audience and vision, they replied, “I’m just a little guy throwing paint on the canvas … and that is for me where it sort of ends because I’ve expressed what I need to for myself. I’ve tried more and more to not create art for a specific set of eyes. And I like hearing when it [my art] goes up in places like Kitao and I can hear how people interpret them. I like seeing different ways of people viewing a personal idea … of there [being] something innately universal in it. That’s the beauty of art.”
I admire Anna’s tenacity to show their art, no matter how personal it might be. It’s frightening to share your vulnerabilities, especially when you’re displaying your mind on a canvas. Your audience will look at your work, misunderstand it, and judge you. This is bound to happen, which at times can be devastating. But maybe someone will see your piece and connect it to their own individual experiences. For both Anna and I, the idea that something we make can inadvertently resonate with someone else is what drives our artistic visions.
So share your art, no matter how personal it may be. I promise you it will resonate with someone just as Anna’s work did with me.