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Sirmano On Her Warrior Characters And Artist Ups And Downs

Anna Manolatos, known by street art fans as Sirmano, is a multi-talented creative spreading her skills across mediums to amass an impressive resume. Not only has she built a career as an Art Director, but she also puts together solo shows, has illustrated a children’s book, put her artwork on the fabric for a fashion label, and painted murals both in Australia and abroad.

It’s fair to say to sat that Anna is one busy artist.

Thankfully, she is also generous with her time and so graciously agreed to speak with me for the Street Art Unearthed podcast. As someone who has been personally struck by Anna’s work, I was dying to understand what her creatures are and how she developed this style, as well as what it’s like to organise solo shows and handle the ups and downs of the artist life.

All this and more was discussed on the podcast with Sirmano. Which you can check out below, or read on for excerpts from the conversation.


Living Life on Lockdown

It’s such a strange time. Doing the small things in the morning is really helping me get through the day. I’m getting ready to take on the day, but I’m really just in my kitchen taking my coffee to sit down at my desk to start work. It’s just such a strange time. I go through an up and down period where I think it’s great and I have so much time to do stuff but then when I go to do stuff I get really clogged up. I think we’re all grieving a little bit of freedom. I find that the things that are helping me are getting up, getting ready and getting dressed.

I miss my friends and human contact. I didn’t realise how important it was to sit in front of people and talk to them and feel their energy. Also, my partner lives overseas, so that sucks.

Emerging as Sirmano

I’ve always been doing art and drawing and creating. I kept going through school and did fine arts. At Uni, I did visual communications and illustration, and when I left Uni, I was still drawing under my name, “Anna Manolatos”. I was drawing really realistic stuff, and I was getting really bored with myself. I changed my style completely and then really loved where I was going with it. I had a solo show just before I left for Spain. That was the first taste of my Sirmano artist journey. Then I went to Spain and kicked it off.

I see it as very layered. I start off with just a really vague idea. I’m inspired by a lot of cultural things; a lot of artefacts, a lot of symbolism in culture and wares of women from around the world. I call my character, my warrior characters. They don’t have gender, but they wear these cloaks that symbolise strength and pride in themselves, and that’s where the colour comes out.

I try to make them really strong with their colours because a lot of their features are very simplified. I like to keep that quite simple but bring the energy in the colour.

Blossoming in Barcelona

I was lucky enough to be able to live in Spain. I was in Barcelona for pretty much the whole time. I had a really strong connection to it, even before I decided to move there. I was drawn to it for the street art and all the artists that are there. Portugal as well. I was tossing up between Portugal and Spain. Such a hard choice, right?!

I was living in Brisbane and was finding that I needed to explore and then come back and appreciate it for what it is. So I decided on Barcelona. It was only supposed to be for a year. I had grand plans to learn Spanish and be fluent in a year and then go to South America and travel, but I just ended up loving the city too much, and four years later I was still there.

I would never call myself fluent in the language, but I really tried a lot.

In the city, you’re just immersed with street art. I was so naive. I didn’t know anything about street art, I knew I wanted to get involved, but I didn’t know how. I was so nervous. So I just started going to a lot of gallery shows. I didn’t know anyone in Spain when I first got there. I just went to a lot of openings, and I went to an opening at Untitled BCN and met the people there and just had a ball.

They have galleries there have openings every week, so you just start to go every week and get to know people and go see art and hang out for a bit, and that’s where my friendship groups started to form. Jess and Chavy, who own the gallery (Untitled BCN), became really good friends of mine. I then got a studio space in that gallery cause I loved it, and I never looked back. It was so great.

I think moving to another country gave me confidence in my art. As an artist, you really have your self-doubts and battles within. It’s really hard to keep being your own cheer squad is the back of your head going “you can do this”.

Moving to Spain and seeing a lot of styles and the freedom that people had and being at the gallery and seeing the shows, I saw so many different styles and this real confidence in people. I don’t know if they were confident inside, but there were exuding this confidence outside, and I thought “why can’t I have that?” so I really switched my mind into just believing. It sounds corny, but I had to think “you love doing this, you just have to stick with it and don’t doubt yourself”. That was a real turning point for me in Spain. I still struggle with it, but I think all artists or creatives do.

Uncovering Potential at Home

When you’re in another country, you’re torn between loving where you are but having a pull from your friends and family and your home. Your second home, I guess. It was just time. I wanted to be back closer to my family and my friends.

I was surprised because I was really hating on Brisbane when I left, and when I came back, I saw there was so much potential to do great things.

I got involved in a lot of art events. My friend and I organised Blank Canvas. We painted all of this old furniture white and got artists to come and do live paintings.

The Solo Show Bubble

The reason I do solo shows is because I really love being pushed to work within a certain deadline and a certain theme. It’s such a challenge.

I have a friend, and we talk about solo shows and the W effect, where you start at the top, and you engage with the gallery. You find a gallery you really like, and you get really excited; you put the date in and the excitement level is so energetic, and then it just plummets to self-doubt. That part of the solo show preparing, I think all artists go through it. But you come back out of it, and it’s a really rewarding thing to do.

My dad is a retired builder, so he makes all of my frames for me. I find solo shows are a real wholesome thing for me because my dad gets involved and I involve a different craft and then the opening night is really great. It’s so nerve-racking because your soul is on show, but I really love doing solo shows. It pushes me to create.

I get into a solo show bubble where I just live and breathe it. I’ll emerge myself for a drink with a friend, and then I’ll go back into my bubble. It’s really nice, and then at the end, you forget all that happened before.

Overcoming Self-Doubt

Because my work is so layered and I’m inspired, I grab an inspiration mood board and put pictures in my studio. The panic doesn’t set into until I’m about halfway through my paintings because that’s when my paintings really link to what they’re going to be, and I panic because I don’t know what the end product will look like. I have to go back to old solo shows to get inspiration and assure myself that it’s going to be OK and “you will get through this”.

The self-doubt creeps in for everyone, but you just have to be your own cheer squad, and I feel really proud at the end of a solo show. That’s the W effect: you go up, you come down, and then you go back up.

It never gets so bad that I feel like I need to stop, but it’s so top level that it can be cured with taking a break, taking your mind off it, going outside, going to the beach… If you get away from it, you get excited to come back to it.

The way I persevere is that I love doing it. It’s up to me. I don’t have to create if I don’t want to, but something is keeping me going, and I just love it.

As much as I have a bit of self-doubt, the majority of the time is quite enjoyable.

Illustrating a Book and Fashion Print

My friend Frank from Kid Titan does comics and is a really great writer. He had always talked to me about doing a children’s book illustration. He wrote Theseus and the Minotaur and wanted me to illustrate it. I had never done it before. It was very challenging. I learnt a lot and did a lot of character development. It was a new path for me. It was great. I would love to do more books in the future.

My dad has the craziest stories. I would love to illustrate one of his stories. He’s amazing.

The clothing label, Jericho Road Clothing, I met the girls when I was painting for First Coat in Toowoomba, and they were just walking around, and they liked me on Instagram, and I was like “oh my god, I love your clothes”, and it just came about. It was a couple of years in the making and was also a learning curve for me doing illustrations for clothing and seeing how it relates to the fabric.

Art Teacher Added to the Resume

I was fortunate enough to be asked to apply for this mural and workshop for Sunnybank High for the Grade 8 students’ art class. I was scared. I forgot how I was in art class in grade 8. They were beautiful. We did a workshop to get some inspiration from them and our surroundings in Sunnybank that would really connect the community and be something that they could be really proud of.

We did a lot of fun stuff in that workshop. They were great. The ideas they came up with — jees they’re going places.

Fingers crossed it’s going ahead in June. I presented three concepts, they’ve chosen one that has a main protagonist in the middle, and it’s walking through this kind of wonderland oasis jungle. That’s the whole vibe of it. It’s very shape-based, a lot more simplified from some of the other things I do, which are more detailed because I really got a lot of inspiration from the students. We did a lot of cutting out of paper and really taking what we see in our surrounding and simplifying it and making it quite abstract.

A lot of of the students were freaking out that everything had to look real, and I really wanted to strip back and show them that art can be subjective and abstract. So some awesome shapes came out of that process. I’m excited to show them.

Teaser for the Upcoming Solo Show

My solo show this year is going to be a little bit different from my other shows. I’m still going to have my wooden frames that my dad makes but I’m going to explore doing a lot of hanging things, and a lot of things coming onto different areas like the floor, maybe a bit of audio. Kind of creating an experience for people when they walk in. A bit of a wonderland experience. Hopefully, that will go ahead at the end of the year.

Written using excerpts from our latest podcast with Sirmano.

Check out Sirmano via Facebook, and Instagram to keep up to date on all of her upcoming work.



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