L’art de la rue d’Anthea Missy — the street art of Anthea Missy
Just like Wall Street, when it comes to street walls, men dominate. That is to say, a fair whack of the spray paint that’s out there came out of cans held by blokes. Of course, female street artists are definitely on the scene, but there’s few that own it. Trying to forge a fresh voice under the watchful eye of old school subscribers who have strong opinions on technique and subject matter is hard to pull off. Harder still if you don’t appear to uphold all the tenets of street art culture.
One such lady, issuing forth murals on her own terms, is the French-born, Belgium-based Anthea Missy. This smart and self-possessed street artist with her organic patterns and unorthodox uniform (tights, denim cut-offs, hair bow and heels), may divide opinion among purists, but she definitely gets the popular vote with followers. Not that she pays much mind to critics — she stands by her work whether you like it or not. In fact, she makes sure to take an Insta pic of herself literally standing with each of her artworks, to share and proudly declare that she takes responsibility for her creations no matter what you might think. And this baring all, is the essence of her work.
Anthea doesn’t mess about with monikers. She doesn’t hide behind any aka. Instead she tags her real name on all her pieces, legal or unsanctioned. “The reason is very simple,” she says. “When I first started my journey as an artist I was already interested in photography and film-making. When I started to paint, initially on canvas, it was natural to record what I was doing. I’ve been documenting my work for a long time now. By taking photos and videos of what I’m doing, I stay true to my art. I’m tough on myself, and taking responsibility for my work helps me to keep pushing.”
It’s a good way for Anthea to maintain a dialogue with her audience too. “People comment and interact on social media and on the street. For the most part, people love what I do.” And what she does is create large format monochromatic swirls and shapes reminiscent of tribal tattoos that include angel-like figures and Matryoshka dolls. It all came about naturally. “The very first time I painted on the street, I had no plan of what I was going to do,” she says. “I arrived in Amsterdam to work on some legal walls and had very little equipment with me. That’s how the black and white came about — out of necessity. I did something quite abstract and had people coming over to ask me what I was doing. The audience was quite tough. Some people gave me a hard time. But I was just so happy.”
What the predominantly male and more experienced artists there that day didn’t know, was that Anthea was coming from a very different, much more rigid world. Sledging and superior gear can intimidate, but they were nothing compared to the freedom Anthea felt. “I’d completed a business and economics degree and was working full time when I looked out the window one day when the sun was shining and just knew I had to be outside,” Anthea explains. It was a turning point. “I’d been painting on the side for a few months and had made some trips to London where I was fascinated with what I saw in Shoreditch. Then I had the opportunity to accompany a street artist one night to practice. He kept saying hurry up and be quiet and I knew right then that I was not going to be that kind of artist. It was too much fun not to enjoy.”
From novice to professional, this effervescence has stood Anthea in good stead, guiding her work, and being a force to deal with detractors. “I’m naturally a happy person and I’m always open to listening to opinion and advice. But I’m not trying to please people. There are artists who’ve contacted me to say I’ve got no technique, my work is shit, what they do is better and why should I get more exposure than them. It upsets me but this is what I’ve chosen to do. So, I must defend my art and keep at it. It’s my time and my commitment. If you want to see my world, then I will show it to you.”
But that world does not necessarily include her personal life. With her growing popularity, Anthea is becoming a pro at balancing her candid nature while keeping a lid on her notoriety. “It’s true, I’m becoming more well-known so I need to take care of that. I take care of the content that I put out there. So, I don’t lie in my work but my personal life is not the focus.”
That’s not to say that Anthea is impervious to sharing the love. “Love has a big impact on my life and my art. Love and its challenges are a big inspiration for me,” she says. After a stint in Cambodia in 2015 she fell in love with her Russian partner and biggest advocate, Dima, who occasionally makes an appearance in her work as a cat. “He is original and independent. You can’t force him. But he’s incredibly loyal and he pushes me to be adventurous in my work.”
As a consequence, the Cambodian adventure was responsible for a change in her work. “I feel like it’s very hard for people to trust each other in our society with what’s going on in the world. It can be hard to find one good friend, one good lover. So my art is a tool for people that need hope. It’s kind of a mission to me in my art,” says Anthea. While living in Phnom Penh she also noticed the tactile techniques involved in traditional crafts and began experimenting with her organic patterns to create characters, with the first being her most popular — The Lovers.
Which brings things round nicely to Anthea’s look. There are not many artists out there, street or otherwise, that paint in heels and wear bows in their hair. “Well I used to be a tomboy. But since I’ve been painting, I get so excited about each outing that I now treat it like a date. Once I’ve got my wall, I’ve organised my gear, then I work out what I’m going to wear. I have a couple of hours to myself, so I’m going to make myself feel good and enjoy it. It’s like a treat. I put my outfit together, I go outside, I feel good, and it’s just for me.” Plus, there is a practical side to things, “I don’t like too much on me when I paint and tights or shorts don’t get in the way. And my super comfy, cushiony Clark’s heels are a good support when I have to crouch down!”
So, what’s up next for Anthea? “I tend not to like to talk about future projects but I’m really excited about an all-female exhibition in Paris (Ru’elles — Exposition Collective — Festival des Cultures Urbaines; Centre Maurice Ravel; May 9th — May 31st) that I’m taking part in. It’s a chance for me to show some technical compositions and improvements. I’m moving in to project managing my own work too, while Dima is encouraging me to add some 3D elements. After that I’m really looking forward to finding some walls and doing my own thing. There is time to make money, get visibility and be in galleries. I still need to chase the good stuff. But there needs to be time to make art because you like it. Art for art’s sake.” Her goal? “At the end of the day, I’m not saving lives but no one is going to die either. I just want to be happy and make others happy too.”
Joy to the world, we can’t wait to see more from Ms Missy.