Sculptor and drawer, Roy Ananda, has long been a pillar of the South Australian visual arts community. His practice is a comprehensive amalgamation of fine art and pop-culture influences. Ananda has somehow managed to consistently combine these two, seemingly disparate concerns, into the majority of his recent work. Often his pieces have a poetic simplicity to their appearance, while the mode of their creation and realisation remains apparent in their final state (Slow crawl into infinity, 2014).
But when did these ideas begin to germinate for Ananda? How much correlation is there between his early practice and the art that he creates today?
To respond to these questions I believe that it is important to retrace Ananda’s artistic journey back to his earliest works, to look at his practice not as a series of disparate pieces, but as a continuous whole.
Firstly, we must consider the seminal drawing, Yoda (Star Wars), as this piece is the clearest establishment of Ananda’s ongoing interest in popular culture and his use of expressive representation.
Looking at this drawing the viewer is immediately struck by the overwhelming likeness to the original Star Wars character. Placed side by side with a still from The Empire Strikes Back, (as seen above) it is hard to ignore how well the young artist captured the iconic feel of the eccentric Jedi Master. The accuracy of this resemblance is only made more astonishing when we consider that this was created when the artist was only three years old!
The simplicity of the outlining technique which Ananda employed clearly delineates the figure from the coloured background. This clear use of line contrasts with the gestural tonal work in the figure which suggests the alien’s wrinkled skin and tattered robes. The only ambiguous addition to the drawing is the semi-circular shape seen above the figure. Is it the alien’s mud hut home, or perhaps an artistic interpretation of the flora and fauna of Dagobah? Maybe it is something more abstract, possibly even an indication of Yoda’s connection to The Force? Whatever the case, the inclusion of this shape was clearly a brilliant choice by the artist, helping to unify the drawing into a cohesive and successful composition.
Ananda continued his artistic exploration into the world of Star Wars by undertaking the challenge of drawing multiple figures on the same page in Star Wars Characters.
His signature use of clear outlines and gestural line work is again apparent in this drawing. However, in this piece, he chose to restrict his use of gesture to within the confines of the figures. The depiction of the characters standing next to each other on the same plane, with the inclusion of Wicket in the foreground, and various smaller characters and vehicles placed strategically around the page creates a complex relationship with space.
The drawing almost feels hieroglyphic, or Byzantine in its execution. The central characters are afforded more importance by being drawn larger, and appearing in the foreground. The background events, and supporting characters, are therefore depicted as smaller; still integral to the drawing’s overall narrative, but not of central importance. Ananda’s intention to display the iconic narrative of The Battle of Endor is clear in this work. On the far left the viewer can make out Chewbacca in his hijacked AT-ST behind Luke Skywalker who, like Princess Leia on the right, wears an outfit specific to The Return of Jedi.
The Empire’s presence is felt by the inclusion of a Star Destroyer, TIE Fighter and, of course The Death Star, in the right corner. However, it seems that the artist lost his sense of continuity when drawing these elements. Ananda mistakenly included a completed Death Star into the narrative of Endor, forgetting to acknowledge that this second reiteration of the super weapon was still under construction when this chapter of the story took place.1 However, his creative inclusion of C3-PO, partially makes up for this error. The robot is seen, placed high above the other characters, an omnipotent presence, overlooking the scene like the god the Ewoks always believed him to be.
Ananda’s penchant for storytelling has continued in his practice today. His work Untitled was an elegantly minimal sculpture which employed movement to suggest the action of a sword fight, despite the lack of human participants.
But what does Untitled have to do with the early practice of Ananda? One could conclude that the influence from his interest in Star Wars remains in the act of the duelling swords. But we must look beyond his depictions of that universe to uncover another, stronger link back to the earlier works of the artist.
Within the archives of Ananda’s early drawings, Star Wars sketches transition slowly to include fantasy influences such as J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, and the popular tabletop role playing game, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). As with Yoda (Star Wars) he again decided to focus on individual character studies. However, in these, Ananda began to introduce the use of text to describe the characteristics and the role of the figures. Goblins, knights, dragons and dire-wolves are depicted by the young Ananda, even before Game of Thrones made them cool.2
A growing maturity can be seen in the artist’s approach to these images. His exploration of other mediums, such as pencil, paint and watercolour, is indicative of his continued experimental process with alternative materials.
Perhaps the outcome that best describes all of these influences (pop-culture, science fiction, and fantasy) is in the work Ananda created this year for The Drawing Exchange.3 In this work ‘Ellen Ripley's Powerloader, Darth Vader's TIE fighter and the dungeon map from the Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 module 'Crown of the Kobold King' fight it out for pictorial space’.4 He used gridded images of these three different sources, from Alien, Star Wars, and D&D, as the basis for his pictorial response. He would then roll a combination of 20, 12, 10, 8, 6 and 4 sided dice (which are commonly used to determine actions in D&D) to decide which section, and from which image he would draw.
Taking the entirety of Ananda’s artistic journey as a whole, it becomes clear that despite multiple stylistic and material choices, his lifework is unified by his fascination with the fantastic. He has used his practice as a continuous thematic study of subjects that strongly influence the popular media sphere. His style has, of course, shifted and evolved with his continuing artistic experience. However, the sincerity of his ongoing response and interest in pop-culture, has meant that Ananda has continued to create engaging and original works of art. Still, I can't help but mourn the loss of the original emotive style Ananda used, in what is now my favourite of his works- Yoda (Star Wars).
Credits: A massive thank you to Roy Ananda for letting us snoop through a huge selection of your childhood drawings! And a REALLY special thanks to Roy’s mum, Alison Skewes, who lovingly kept, labeled and archived this amazing collection of drawings! Thanks to her we were able to create this article and get to know just where Roy’s practice started. It was amazing, thank you! We really look forward to your retrospective Roy!
Roy Ananda will be exhibiting as part of the 2018 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Divided Worlds.
 Ananda, Roy. Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/BXj-lElj-VK/?taken-by=roy.ananda