Fanny Brodar Talks About the Good Times, the Bad Times, and Rediscovering Herself as an Artist

by Rubén Palma
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Fanny holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in illustration from The Art Institute of Boston, which is evident in her artwork. Her creative style draws inspiration from the playful nature of Japanese art and the works of Rose Wylie. Born in Oslo, Norway in 1971 and raised in New York, she currently resides and works in Maine. Her artwork has been featured in several exhibitions and is also held in private collections both in the United States and internationally.

Hi Fanny! Thank you for sitting down with me. First question. How does a regular day look like for you in Kennebunkport, Maine?

My days start off in a very zen-like way, and it might seem quite boring, but it took me my whole life to get to a point where things would be boring so I love it. A long time ago, I practiced Buddhism and this time is important to the start of my day and creative process. I have my rituals — I make the beds, feed all my monsters, human and otherwise, take the dogs for a run, and drink my coffee. I make it to the studio around lunchtime, and after this restful morning, I am filled with energy and don’t stop until dinnertime. A different side of myself comes out in the studio, and even if I’m not inspired to paint, I have trained myself to find the inspiration. Music helps me, especially when I need to work fast!

So you were actually born in Oslo, Norway, so technically you’re a fellow Scandinavian 😀 How did you end up in the US of A?

The funny thing is, I recently found out I’ve been a Norwegian citizen my entire and didn’t know it! I did have to change my name, though. So I’m now a dual citizen. It happened that my mother, who is American, married a Norwegian. I like to tell the story that I was conceived in New Jersey and born in Oslo! They divorced when I was 1, and she moved back to the USA and married an ex-boyfriend from New York who adopted me. I met my biological father at 18, which of course was a profound experience for me because I always felt different than the rest of my family. A lot of things sort of made sense about myself, but it didn’t make things easier!

This question is a build-up to the upcoming questions. Do you remember how old you were when you first started painting?

I was about 5 and took a painting class at a nearby art school and the teacher said I was gifted. But I was always drawing. I can’t remember exactly when I started, but I have tons of sketchbooks from when I was around 5 and it looks like I was pretty obsessed as a child with drawing. Family members seem to remember me always at my desk drawing 🙂

With that in mind, you actually started painting fairly recently, during Covid in 2019, where you went through a pretty dark time. Can you talk to me a little bit about that period in your life and why you started painting again?

Yes, it was after my partner and I were struggling with a business that we had to admit was failing. We went from riches to rags. Things were especially difficult during Covid because we lost all of our wholesale accounts and couldn’t get supplies. Other than dwindling savings, we had nothing.

It was a dark time because we had set up a nice life for our boys, in a nice neighborhood, and were surrounded by neighbors living a good life. For the sake of our boys, I had to keep my head up and food on the table. We were living month to month and hand to mouth. I prayed a lot.

Then one day, a friend offered me her mother’s old easel from her dad’s warehouse that he was cleaning out. I remember meeting her in the parking lot, and two friends helped me get the easel in my tiny car! I have to thank that friend because to be honest, I might not have started experimenting with painting had she not gifted me that easel. I still have it and still use it! Because we were pretty much quarantined I spent hours obsessively painting, and what flowed were these childlike monsters reminiscent of the t.v. characters that brought me happiness and an escape from the difficult times in my childhood.

While we’re on the subject, and I’m super curious about this. I know that after you graduated from art school you didn’t paint at all, until 2019. Let’s say that’s about 25 years to put it in perspective. Where did life take you during those years?

Ah yes, so many stories! I can wish that right after art school I had the guts to pursue being an artist, but I was a bit lost spiritually. I had to find myself, and to learn to love myself. Maybe painting would’ve been a great outlet, but because I was already lacking direction, it might have been a dangerous one. It was the late 90s and working in the dot-com was super hot.

So my first job in NYC was working as a headhunter for this guy who was Howard Stern’s neighbor. Everyone in the office was making tons of money, but unfortunately I was too nice to keep the job. I talked too long on the phone with candidates instead stealing them from one company and placing them in another, so I was fired.

But a funny story — one of the hot candidates during the dot-com was my now partner’s best friend and business partner at the time, who I would later meet in a bar! Anyway, after that I basically worked my way up in NYC, and somehow ended up specializing in circulation management. I worked at a nursing textbook publisher, at a magazine that reviewed romantic novels (I actually met Fabio), and my highest paying job was as a producer at an ad agency. I had many bosses who weren’t nice, was yelled at, hit on — you name it, it happened! But boy was it an adventure.

This story is super dope, so I’m going to stay on this topic for a few more questions. So about 1 or 2 years after you started painting again, your work already got booked for solo exhibitions. What was that feeling like and how did you get discovered?

Instagram was a Godsend, and I was on it when it was cool. But also, I applied to tons of open calls, of course not really knowing what I was doing. I did end up paying to be in a show once in NYC, I even went to New York to be there, and discovered that it was a total scam! I can’t believe artists pay to be in shows.

Then I was selected to be in the biennial at a local museum of contemporary art. It was definitely a bump up in my career, and got me noticed. Soon one gallery took a chance on me, and little by little other galleries noticed my work. I also set goals to be in a particular gallery, and even though I wasn’t noticed or ignored by them, eventually it happened. So I will say being persistent, and also pursuing a certain direction complementary to my work was a good move.

How is your interest in child psychology reflected in your work?

For a time in my college career, I was a psych major and my interest was child psychology. Actually when I first went to college, I was an art therapy major. Again, I was a bit lost and this seemed like a good path. Because I had a tumultuous childhood, I was very interested in helping others who went through similar struggles, but in the end I was probably just trying to save myself.

I don’t really consciously think about child psychology when I’m painting, however after I finish a work I suddenly see the interactions between the characters and the expressions on the their faces and realize it may be about these child-like characters understanding the world around them. For example, I often paint this one grouchy character who, while everyone else may be enjoying a cookie, he is feeling “yuck”. This is common in child psychology, where a child might feel like an outcast because they don’t fit in, and maybe they are afraid to show their feelings, or feel awkward. Honestly, I’m probably painting about myself, since as they say in art history all artists’ works are self portraits!

Alright, so your style with bright colored nostalgic muppet-like characters. What’s the story behind them? And what do they symbolize / represent?

The muppet-like characters represent the inner child in us all — the pureness, the emotions, both good and bad, that we all harbor within. They were inspired by the characters I saw as a child, and since television was my escape, I guess these memories and characters stand out in my subconscious and have come out on the canvas.

While we’re on the subject. If you started painting straight out of art school, or lets say 10 years after art school, do you think you would be painting with your current style / theme? And do you think you would have experienced the same success as you do now?

I touched on this earlier, but I would say no. I think had I pursued art right after art school I would probably be a children’s book illustrator. I would probably be successful and have continued on that path, and never paint. But who knows!

Back to the solo exhibition question. So far I believe you have 5 solo shows in 2023. Being that everything has happened so fast, do you get nervous during or before shows or what’s that experience like?

Yes and it may have been too many. It was basically both nerve-racking and stressful to produce so many works that I would also love. Sometimes, however, I find when the pressure’s on I have to work faster and the work produced is looser. Also, I get in the zone when producing a lot of work at once, but it’s exhausting. I threw my back out twice in 2023! I do get very nervous before shows. The experience is like taking drugs, you go through extreme highs and lows. If the work sells, you are on a big high. But if it doesn’t it, you can fall into a serious low. For me, I allow myself to feel these things, but also work to stay balanced. Fortunately I also have a life partner I can talk to and my children who keep me grounded. But if I were single, I might be drinking and smoking lol.

Can you describe your creative process, from initial idea to end result.

Often I have an idea, but mostly my work is intuitive. I really try to paint like a child, where I see something or have an interest, and approach the canvas like it’s a big sketchbook. So I often start out sketching, then painting over, although I’m trying to just paint because I find it’s more fluid when I don’t pre-sketch, and my mistakes become a part of the work and I like that.

You have a background as an illustrator and you’ve said yourself that it shows in your work. My question is how is that being reflected?

Well, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing, but the way I approach my work is very much like drawing, and sometimes the challenge is to be looser.

With that in mind, what is it about painting that makes it your prefered medium of expression and not illustrations?

The field of illustration is very commercial, and there are stricter guidelines. While certainly one can lose themselves in the process, the audience is always in the back of the artist’s mind. With painting, I can just paint for myself. Sure I find myself in situations where gallerists, curators, and collectors like particular works and give advice, which can be very confusing. However, in the end, the best work is my own and I just have to hope others like it!

How would you describe a perfect day?

Ah my perfect day is one where I am wrestling with a painting or two but at the end of they day I am in love with it. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s got to be the perfect day when it does!

What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

Any movie by Jacques Tati. Every time I watch one of his movies, I just want to paint like his movie! He also reminds me of myself, this clumsy character of Monsieur Hulot. Often I feel exactly like this character in life.

Who’s your favorite artist(s) and why?

Rose Wylie always comes to mind first. I love that she started older, and her works just seems to flow and she could give a damn what anyone thinks.

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