DEVIANT ART'S ANIA CHRZANOWSKI (A.K.A. CINQUAIN)
Interview by Damien Echols

Damien Echols: Can you describe the online art community?

Cinquain: Ahhh, I want to kill it. Just the other day I found out some jackass stole one of my pieces and posted it on some crappy Arabic site and my reaction... well... I'd be quick to write some hate mail. That's always great for relieving tension. But, you know, it would have to be in Arabic, and I'm really rusty at the moment. Seriously though, other than the talentless stealing stuff they themselves can't produce the online art community is fantastic. You meet amazing people, you see amazing work, you get exposure that Picasso could only dream of. I mean, I'm getting recognition for my work and I'm not even dead yet. That's awesome. Sure, there's the occasional jerk who'll accuse you of "faking it" because he can't do what you do, and yes, there are those charming art critics who like to talk about proportions and perspectives when all they have to show for it is a badly drawn stick figure or those really creepy anthro things. You know those things? The whole anime I'm-a-human-with-animal-traits fad? That scares me. Honest to god. Sheer terror. Get it away.
 
DE: 2. How would you describe your own art?

C: It depends on whether you want me to be arrogant or modest. I'm drawn to the darker side of things, so most stuff is really moody. I had an aunt that I hadn't seen in ages look at my work once and afterward she gave me this worried look and asked me, "Are you depressed?" That was pretty amusing. No, I'm not depressed. I just don't like rainbows and bunnies. I've always been a pretty morbid person; always cheering for the villain in movies... that sort of thing, and I think my love affair with the melancholy reflects in my artwork. The day I draw a cheerful picture will be the day I eat my sticks of charcoal and nail myself into my own coffin. What a happy thought!
 
DE: 3. Did you go to art school, or are you self-taught?

C: Art school? No. I'm bad at school in general, so I'd probably do miserably in a place like that. I mean, I pass all the classes with no problem, but the whole concept of drawing what people tell me to draw, and with what medium, and in what style? It would be a very fast route to becoming far more neurotic than I already am. I'd probably end up in an introduction to painting happy trees class with whathisface Bob Ross as the instructor. Can we change the subject? I just felt a chill run down my spine. Next question.

DE: 4. How often do you draw?

C: Too much. I'm of the belief that if your passion doesn't interfere with your ability to function normally within society you don't have enough damn passion. Me? If I don't draw for about a week I start feeling like squeezing people's necks. It's an addiction, I admit, but I have no other vices. No, really.

DE: What are you working on right now?

C: Nothing and everything. I've got potential projects piled up to my eyeballs but I can never put them in order and say okay, I'm going to do this first, this second, this third... I'm weak and unable. Oh, trust me, I've tried. Imminent failure! I've tried to do series, but it's rare that those work out for me, though I'm on the cusp of giving it another shot. My stuff is never easily explainable, so I'll just give you the potential titles: Hope, Mercy, Grace. Now throw some darkness at it and you're seeing into my future.

DE: Who are your influences, both in and out of the visual arts?

C: In visual arts, nobody. Seriously... I'm not kidding. I can't name off a single contemporary artist if my life depended on it outside the great realm of the online art community. I think that's both a weakness and a strength. I should get more involved in the visual art world as far as knowledge goes, but most of it bores me to tears. But it also keeps me from falling into copying other artists' style. When I do look at visual art it's rarely traditional work; mostly photography and photomanipulation. I get most of my inspiration from music. Bands like Placebo, H.I.M., Nine Inch Nails... they're what keep my artistic blood pumping. I just recently saw H.I.M. in concert and let me tell you, that was insane. It was like seeing a muse in the flesh, right there in front of me. Just amazing.

DE: Can you describe the process you use to create a piece?

C: I could, but where would the mystery be? I'll just say this... I'm a reference artist, so I look at things rather than drawing them from my own imagination. There's no tracing, no copying, and no projecting involved. It's all freehand. I can't tell you how many people ask me that same question every week. Drives me friggin' insane. It's like this... people ask me, "What kind of charcoal do you use?" and I tell them it's compressed charcoal. Then it escalates to, "What brand?" Magic charcoal, my darlings. It's magic charcoal and it's produced just for me by trolls that I keep locked in my two-car garage. It's the same with paper. "Well, what brand is it?" It's of my own design. I make it myself out of rare and exotic trees. And if you believe that the band of paper and charcoal makes a difference I've got some magic beans to sell you. It's amazing how many people think this stuff is dependent on what you use to create the work rather than the technique that's used. So I admit it... even though it makes me an ass, I'm an elitist when it comes to giving out details about how I do what. Just remember, it's all about the trolls.

DE: How old were you when you started drawing, and what got you going?

C: My first love was writing, hence my completely useless English degree. I had always drawn but it wasn't anything serious. In high school I got a little more involved but lost interest. I was heavily involved in our high school drama club. I was, get this, the president. Oh I see you grinning. "Drama club president? Who would have thunk?" I've actually only been seriously drawing since February of '05. I drew a portrait for someone I knew as a birthday present. Then some foul circumstances hit the fan, and I turned to art as an emotional crutch of sorts. What better to spawn melancholy artwork than a bag of depression, eh? And oh, what a big bag that was.

DE: Your artwork is both powerful and somehow stark. What is it about charcoal that draws you? Has it always had a hold on you, or have you experimented with different mediums?

C: I did graphite for awhile, but hated it. I painted with acrylics back in high school but oh, those bright colors! It was burning my retinas. The thing that pushed me over the edge was the fact that I couldn't get perfect black with graphite. No matter how hard I pressed or what grade of pencil I used I always wanted it to be darker. So finally I grabbed an old charcoal pencil and used that. Charcoal is scary though. You can't really erase it, so I was nervous as hell about it the first few times and it took me forever to get anything done. I never went back to graphite and I haven't touched a paintbrush in nearly a decade. People tell me things like, "Oh, you should totally try painting!" Well, that's just insane. That's not what I do. That's like telling a racecar driver to take up boating. Now tell me, what sort of confounded sense does that make, huh? I'll give you a hint: none. It makes none.

DE: How would you describe the current state of the art world?

C: Bleak. Ha. Actually, I don't know. But any time someone asks anything about the state of the world, bleak is always a good answer. Seriously, I don't follow the art world so I don't know. When I started drawing I never expected to be selling originals and attending art auctions and doing interviews, you know? So I didn't pay any attention, and probably for the better. All I know is that I'm happy with what I'm doing, so please, everyone, buy my prints so I can pay my trolls to make more magic charcoal. Do you people think this stuff grows on trees?

DE: What contemporary artists do you believe embody the direction in which art is headed?

C: Sure, make me feel stupid. That's really nice. Ahem... next.

DE: Some artists seem to fall comfortably into the role of mystic, while others become a mirror that reflects society. Do you feel that you fit into one of those categories, or into a third that's altogether different?

C: I don't really reflect society. I've only done one piece that was a direct political commentary. Generally, society doesn't interest me. I think society has lost heart, lacks passion, and is mostly devoid of intelligence, so I'm not big on doing odes to the world we live in. Everything else has been this somewhat apocalyptic emotional mess that somehow fashioned itself into artwork. I guess "mystic" is a good descriptor, though I can't say that's totally accurate either. So I'll put myself in a third category, the "visual virus" category. I don't even know what the hell that means. But sounds cool, so lets roll with it.

DE: Who or what is your muse, the driving force behind your art?

C: Again, most of my muses are musical. Brian Molko, Ville Valo, Trent Reznor. Call em. I have art to give you. Beyond that, movies are a great source of inspiration, especially Tim Burton ones. Zombies. Zombies are grand. I'm a junkie for horror flicks, though it's a damn shame that the movie industry is worthless when it comes to scaring people in the past few years. I've got very few "real life" muses, but the ones that do exist are, luckily, great friends to me. I'm fortunate enough to be able to call on any of them at any time and say, "Hey, I want to do a drawing of such and such. Where's your camera?" Those people surprise me more often than not, tossing out ideas for me to work with. I love collaborating, so that's definitely cool.

DE: Do you believe your art is evolving? And if so, in what direction?

C: If it wasn't evolving it would be dead, and it's certainly not dead. Undead? Ahem. But yeah, of course it's evolving. I'm always pushing myself to do something different and I'm always refining my technique, questioning whether something would look cooler drawn realistically or in a more stylized fashion. But this is something I give full credit to the online art community for. I've met countless amounts of people and beyond the non-critical comments I've gotten a good amount of insight on how to make my work more effective. I've taken as much of that in as I can because art should a constant learning process. I think the evolution of my artwork is the most exciting part of it for me, because I honestly can't tell you what I'll be doing a year, or even six months from now, art-wise. In a way, it's a lot like being a vessel for raw inspiration. I've got no agenda when it comes to my work, so wherever it goes, it goes. Just... no rainbows or unicorns or anthropomorphic sacrilege. Evolution will never take me to those dark depths of hell.

DE: When you need magick and beauty, where do you find it?

C: Anywhere. I'll watch a movie, listen to music, look photos of places I've never been and that's enough. I've always found it strange of people to say that they're out of artistic inspiration, that they've hit a "block" or a "dry spell". I don't believe that, but it sounds better than saying, "I'm lazy," doesn't it? Hell, sometimes I'll create a piece when I don't feel like drawing at all, but I'll do it anyway because that's what I do. I can't let it deteriorate. But all too often good artists let that go and then they're left reminiscing rather than doing. Inspiration can be found anywhere, as can beauty and magick. It all depends on your point of view.

DE: Wayne Chinsang has an unhealthy dog lip fetish. He's been known to go berserk and severely thrash any writer who doesn't ask "Do dogs have lips?" at some point during the interview. You could save me a lot of pain if you would state your opinions on whether or not dogs have lips.

C: Dog lips are actually my favorite dog part next to the nose and eyebrows. And yes, dogs do have eyebrows. If you doubt me I'll have to introduce you to my Scottie, Beau. He'll school you.