Annalisa Ferraris on living out her art and finding inspiration in the dark.

Annalisa Ferraris spent the days of her youth breaking into neighbour’s houses. “Not to do anything,” the artist explains. “Just to look around.”

“So many times our neighbours would come home and I would be like, ‘hello!’ I just liked to look at their interiors.”

It’s a fascination with architectural shapes and unattended spaces that has found its way into her works as an adult – those emptied swimming pools and abandoned tables for two: dark romance rendered in motel pinks and late-night blues.

“I like the idea of a more sombre abandoned scene that feels like someone was just there,” tells Ferraris of what inspires her paintings. “And I guess the insecurity of new spaces when you are travelling … and you have to stack a set of drawers against the door so no one else comes in … Particularly if you arrive at night. But then you wake up in the morning and think, oh no this is lovely!”

Perhaps it won’t come as a surprise that despite her preoccupation with all the night brings, Ferraris is a little afraid of the dark – and a loud, lit city is where she feels most at peace. Actually, there are no curtains in her apartment in Sydney’s Darlinghurst, which doubles as her creative space. Along with the light, those wide-open windows lend connection to the moving world outside, a reprieve from her often-solitary practice. “I love the pressure of the city,” she explains. “I think because I love the buildings and angles and shadows, it’s important for me to be seeing all those things and constantly surrounded by it.”

Still, there’s much inspiration to be found within her home, where art by friends and contemporaries populates the walls and a collage of Leonard Cohen lyrics sets the mood in the studio.

On a heated morning she invited us inside to talk creative process, endless road trips and why a good book will always be the ultimate cure.

Tell me about your studio. How does it allow you to do what you do?

Good question. I just moved back here after having a studio in Redfern … I painted here for five years then moved out … and it’s so good to be back. I think being near the [National] Art School is nice, because that’s where it all started. The light in here is really great, and there are always loads of people around so you never feel totally alone.

Could you tell me about your creative process here? When do you paint?

Because there is so much grey area in the art world and there’s no set job title … you have to create a structure. [I] get up early go for a run or a swim and come back have my coffee in the studio and then I’ll start at nine and try and work ’til five. I have a lunch bell as well.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working towards my solo show in July, getting ready for that. I wanted the show to feel kind of like a road trip that’s been going on for too long. Kind of maddening and exhausting.

Is that based on personal experience?
Yeah [laughs].

What happens when a road trip goes on too long?

I feel like afterwards, you remember all the weird things from along the way, little stills of crappy meals you’ve had or motels you’ve stayed in, isolated quiet towns that you’ve passed through. I’m obsessed with the idea of the relationship you form in those weird places, just for a little bit, then you’re on to the next one.

… [Best friend and artist] Daniel [Kyle] and I drove to Vegas not too long ago. And on the way to Vegas there’s this abandoned town, the whole thing is abandoned. When I was younger at art school I would break into a lot of abandoned buildings to take photos in there, so I guess that idea of towns or buildings that had this jovial lovely history then all of the sudden were empty and completely changed.

You majored in photography at the National Art School. Do you see your aesthetic as a photographer reflected in your paintings?

Yeah I think so, the palette has always been really similar, soft pink-y hues that I can’t seem to get away from. Even when I’m actually painting, I try to do one without pink but then a bit always sneaks in.

You write a bit, too?

A little. I used to. Mostly just Leonard Cohen quotes and bits from songs, I’m always searching for titles of works. I really like it if the title has nothing to do with the work.

Who was the first artist you ever loved?

I think David Hockney is probably still one of my favourites. Just his use of space and the way he transforms the normal suburban house into something complex and interesting.

And Ed Ruscha, I just think he was so progressive for his time … And it feels very American, which I’m also obsessed with.

I can see him in your work! It’s an energy kind of thing …

… A lot of the time he paints in the bottom quarter of the work – I just love that format. Something draws me to having the space above what I’m painting that I really like. I think it’s easier to digest.

What do you do when you get creative block?

I read books, I’ve always got loads of books around. I think books are just the best because it’s an instant direct drip into some art that will hopefully get the ball rolling and you can see things more clearly.

Who’s been inspiring you more recently?

I’ve been really into still life, so Margaret Preston, even some of David Hockney’s weird still lifes [and] Cressida Campbell, her still lifes are so, so good. I like the idea of being influenced by her but dirtying them up with … stuff that definitely doesn’t feature in hers.

Do you think your work bleeds into your personal aesthetic?

I think I like to dress quite wildly at times; the colours, the palettes that I think come from colours I paint with. I think I just love to collect loads and loads of paintings and have art everywhere. But all the stuff I have, none of it is really similar to how I paint. I love stuff that is really different from what I do. It’s more interesting. Then there’s also more chance that you’ll get out of the studio and draw inspiration from the home.