In Conversation

Body of work

Getting under the skin of consumerism

For Blue Mountains-based artist Anna Di Mezza, darkness and domesticity are natural bedfellows. Her paintings take us to the surreal underside of picket-fence perfection, from the body bag being cheerfully loaded into the boot of a 1950s family car to the terrified face visible inside a washing machine overseen by a serene housewife. In Di Mezza’s food paintings, cuts of raw meat unsettle tranquil scenes of mid-century living, becoming grisly stand-ins for everyday goods such as groceries, toys and cakes. Di Mezza’s subjects seem sweetly unfazed by their strange surrounds – but for viewers, the sense of unease lingers long after our eyes have left the canvas.

CARODY CULVER: May I ask about your background as an artist? When did you begin to paint, and what artistic influences have shaped the style that defines your work today?

ANNA DI MEZZA: I’ve loved drawing and painting since childhood. I always chose art as a subject at school and I did quite a lot of life drawing after high school. I studied graphic design for a year before landing a job at Disney Animation Studios in Sydney as an in-betweener – a role that involved drawing between the other drawings done by the animator to smooth out the action. I worked there for ten years. It was only five years ago I started to seriously pursue having my own exhibition of paintings. I applied and succeeded in exhibiting to a local regional gallery in the Blue Mountains. I’ve been really busy since then, doing on average a couple of shows every year in New South Wales and Melbourne. My artistic influences are mainly from the surrealist and pop art movements. Artists I’m particularly influenced by are René Magritte, Giorgio de Chirico, Edward Hopper and Tom Wesselmann.

CC: Your paintings have a strong mid-century aesthetic – but while they often appear to depict scenes of tranquil 1950s domesticity, when you look closer there’s usually something more menacing going on. Can you talk about this duality in your work?

ADM: The ’50s were a time of tremendous optimism and energy, yet they also had a dark underbelly. It was a time when women’s roles were diminished – they were often expected to stay home and be housewives. In the US, African Americans were living under segregation, particularly in the south, which caused significant racial tension. There will always be negative and dark aspects whenever human nature is involved. My paintings straddle a fine line between humour and horror.

CC: Quite a few of your paintings feature food – often raw meat – in surprising or surreal ways, like the housewife cutting into a ‘cake’ of skin epidermis in Subcutaneous Endeavours. What is it about food – particularly in a domestic context – that appeals to you as an artist?

ADM: In Subcutaneous Endeavours I like the contradiction of the typical ’50s housewife in the heart of the home, which is the kitchen, cooking up what looks like a cake (but isn’t). The scene appears normal at first glance, but there’s something not quite right about it. I often like to invite the viewer to come for a closer look to find these little surprises within my work.

CC: What draws you to depictions of food that disrupt or unsettle the viewer?

ADM: Human organs and epidermis, like raw meat, all look very much alike in their original form: visceral and unadulterated. I like the dichotomy of these images – they can be either repugnant or beautiful. They also carry the added stigma of cannibalism.

CC: There are strong elements of surrealism in your work – can you tell me about the surrealist concept of objective chance and the role it plays in your paintings?

ADM: According to the late commentator Louis Proyect, ‘The concept of objective chance is a key element of surrealist ideology. It deals with serendipitous and unpredictable moments when incongruous elements encountered in everyday life combine together to produce a kind of mystical insight, like in a waking dream.’ In the same way, most of my work is about juxtaposing people and unrelated backgrounds to create an element of enigmatic surprise for the viewer.

CC: You often incorporate found images into your work – what does this process involve, and what kinds of images are you drawn to?

ADM: Most of the images I work with I find on the internet or in old magazine ads. If I’m lucky, I’ll come by an image easily, but otherwise I have to forage through hundreds of old photos until I find the right one that’ll work best for my objectives. I try to look for images of anonymous people going about their daily lives. I want to celebrate their anonymity and uproot them from their everyday setting, involving them in a new narrative that walks the fine line between reality and dreams.

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