Success is in bloom at the intersection of talent and hard work for budding Ormond Beach painter Brianna Angelakis. The 23-year-old Flagler College graduate will exhibit works internationally this year, less than three years after completing her first student oil painting.
Despite fostering a love of drawing since early childhood, Angelakis wasn't sold on the idea of pursuing a career in art until she discovered oil painting in late 2011 as a junior-year English major.
"It would have been my first choice, but you know, people say your whole life, ‘You'll always be a starving artist,' " she says. "I was really bad at it at first, but I worked my butt off and I ended up just falling in love with oil paints. There's nothing like oil painting. The brush to canvas, mixing the paint — everything. I just love it."
Angelakis burned the midnight oil over oil paints and canvases in Flagler's art studio while working a full-time summer job at Chick-fil-A and completing bachelor's degrees in English and fine arts. She was chosen as the school's Distinguished Student in both majors.
In just over two years, Angelakis has produced a portfolio of oil paintings characterized by the sublime qualities of nature, emotionally complex female subjects and nearly photographic realism. And thanks to her contemporaneous studies in 19th-century English literature, she needn't look far for inspiration.
Angelakis' four-piece 2012 collection, Wonders of the Invisible World, captures four separate heroines in mid-skyfall, while subtle patriarchal symbols of lighthouses and tornadoes hover over their demise. She says the series was directly inspired by Kate Chopin's 1899 novel, The Awakening.
"Really, I would not have made any of those paintings if I hadn't been an English major and studied feminist literature and romantic literature," she says. "My inspiration comes from that all the time. If I can't come up with something, I can always go and read Jane Eyre again, or pick up a book or some John Keats."
The emerging artist's undeniable talent began to turn curatorial heads within the first year of her newfound love for oil painting. Neurasthenia (2012), an eerily surreal self-portrait paying homage to Angelakis' respect for 19th-century authors, was chosen for the 2012 Folio Weekly Invitational artists' exhibit, "Inspire and Engage," at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.
Three works were selected for the second annual Highway Gallery exhibit, displayed at Florida Mining Gallery and on digital billboards throughout Jacksonville last fall.
"It hadn't really clicked with me that my art was going to be on billboards, like, ginormous. Finally, when I saw my work on a billboard, I was, like, ‘Oh, snap!' It was just phenomenal, like, ‘This is really happening!' "
In addition to inclusion in several Northeast Florida exhibits, Angelakis' works have been featured in print and online magazines and catalogs and displayed across the country, in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Baton Rouge and beyond. This year, she's already scheduled exhibitions in the United Kingdom, Germany and several areas of California — including her first solo show in San Francisco's Modern Eden Gallery this May.
"The whole show is inspired by fairy tales, which sounds really cliché, because it is, but I didn't really care, because I love fairy tales and I've always wanted to make fairy-tale paintings," she says. The as-yet-unnamed exhibition will feature about 20 new paintings, drawings and small etchings that explore traditional fairy-tale themes in contemporary settings.
Being the polymath she is, Angelakis plans to juggle more than creating a couple dozen fine oil paintings this year. She's applied to six graduate schools and plans to earn a master of fine arts degree and, ultimately, become an applied art professor.
Her fairy tale has only just begun. o