The Bold & Colorful Work of Los Angeles-Based and Thailand-Born Artist Ann McFerran

Artist Ann McFerran
Artist Ann McFerran

Los Angeles-based artist, Ann McFerran, creates paintings with an abiding sense of balance, color, and compositional techniques. Influenced by the creational spontaneity and emotional immediacy of the Abstract Expressionists, she presents a style preoccupied entirely with composition, color, and balance.

Ann approaches her work with a belief in the expressive power of color, various methods of mark making, and thickly applied layers of paint. Her work is characterized by gestural boldness, and chromatic richness that exude vital qualities of energy and dynamism derived from her internal state or surroundings. The subjects of her paintings fluctuate from subtle references of figuration and/or narrative—to eschewing them altogether.

She works in a range of painting materials, including oil, acrylic, spray paint, ink, molding paste and found items that are collaged but seamlessly integrated onto canvas. Despite her large range, prevalent and consistent throughout her work is the calculated balancing of composition, color, and mark making—a sense of control within a fabricated chaos.

Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Ann immigrated with her single mother to the states when she was seven years old as Jitsupa Tangtrongchitr. Her stepfather helped Ann and her mother move to the suburbs of Tracy, CA, where she made money painting murals for their local neighborhood. Ann grew up in a household with walls adorned with murals of elaborate nature scenes, animals, and vintage cars, spaces that were integrated and enhanced by creativity which informs her proclivity towards making work tailored to tasteful color combos and enhancing people's spaces.

Ann has a B.S. in Psychobiology and took fine art classes on the side while attending her pre-med classes fulltime. When she graduated, she moved entirely into the arts and began working with private clients all across Los Angeles and beyond.

Ann's work has been shown in online magazines, spaces, galleries, and fashion products based in Los Angeles.

You immigrated with your single mother to the U.S. when you were seven. What was the scenario that motivated the move and what caused you to choose the creative life.

I was born in Bangkok, Thailand, where I lived with my older sister, dad, and mom. My parents actually got a divorce when I was 4 years old due to domestic violence, alcoholism, and disloyalty among many other issues on my dad’s end. Because I was the youngest, they let me choose who I wanted to live with, while my sister would be left with the other choice. I chose my mom because I had a stronger bond with her while my sister had a stronger bond with my dad. My dad was not the best person to me and after that incident I haven’t seen him since. (Strangely enough, I found out yesterday that he has passed away). My mom met a really nice Irish/German guy through my grandma (who is now my current dad and of whom I received my last name “McFerran” from) and ended up marrying him.

What do you remember about your first impressions of America?

About a year and a half later my mom finally came back to get me from Thailand, and before I knew it I was driving across the Golden Gate bridge. I remember that day vividly, the cool air when I stepped off the plane, and the incredible colors! The fire engine red of the bridge and incessant sounds. I felt like I had escaped prison and found my freedom. In school in Thailand they were strict disciplinarians; our hair had to be above our chins, we had a strict dress code, and we got hit in the palm for every problem missed on any test.

Compared to this, American school was a breeze. Every experience was a complete culture shock that I fully welcomed. I moved to Tracy, CA where I was one of the only Asians in the entire school. On the first day, a blonde girl came up to me when I was sitting on the swings and was completely fascinated that my hair was so black and so straight. Everyone wanted to touch my hair! Here, I had the most amazing teachers that gave me individualized attention and I went from English as a second language to the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program within a year.

Why did you change your name from Jitsupa Tangtrongchitr, and how did you settle on Ann McFerran?

Every single teacher or person that attempted to pronounce my name struggled with it. I was painfully shy when I was young and the thought of any substitute teacher trying to pronounce my name as it came up on the attendance list gave me chills. I told my parents I needed the change. They agreed and so when my sister finally immigrated over 4 years later, we both picked names. Since she picked Amy, I picked the closest American name I could think of and I thought of the doll Raggedy Ann. I loved how simple and easy “Ann” was compared to my current complex name.

Before we changed it legally on the attendance list it read “Jitsupa Tangtronchitr …(Ann)”. When I was 10 I also obtained a middle name and chose Keira because I fell in love with the elegance of Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice and was deeply moved by the beautiful and poignant soundtrack by Dario Marianelli. My last name came from my German/Irish step father who’s great grandma immigrated from Ireland and came up with that name herself upon immigration to New York!

How did you realize you had talent in art?

I was obsessed with Golden Retrievers after watching the movie Air Bud. To express my love, my mom painted a mural of 3 dogs in my bedroom, and from there began painting almost every room in the house, and I began to help her. Our living room was a large mural of elephants grazing in a field with rivers, pink blossoms, and mountains in the distance – all in super hyperrealism while my sister’s room was an underwater scene with dolphins, turtles, and great barrier reefs.

She would watch videos of Bob Ross and follow all his tutorials and I would be there in the background also watching. Eventually she began to do our neighbor’s houses as well. Only after I took an art class in middle school did I realize how much easier it was for me to draw anything hyper-realistically compared to my peers. Every project I did was always above and beyond what was asked and I began winning art contests as well as doing Advanced Placement art independently when they didn’t offer the program at my school.

As a birthday gift to my first boyfriend, Wesley, I painted a t-shirt with a mosquito and “West Nile” underneath in band shirt fashion. After people at school saw it, I began to get swamped with requests. I then decide to start my own business “ShirtsbyAnn”. That’s when I realized people saw something unique in my ability to paint and they were willing to spend money on it!

What made you move to LA – one of the centers of the art world?

In high school, I was lucky enough to gain entry into a leadership and college entry assistance program which was held at Princeton University for a summer. The program was called Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) and they immensely helped me and the rest of my 60 peers gain entry to the top colleges in the US. We were all deemed underprivileged but in the top 5% of our classes. At the time, I had no idea what career I wanted to pursue. I just knew I had a huge interest in the arts and sciences.

I applied to 12 schools and chose UCLA after I visited Berkeley and got cussed out by a hobo! Moving to LA was by far one of the best decisions I could have made. The amount of creatives and go getters in this city are endless and continue to drive me. The art scene here encouraged my growth towards being an artist as I began meeting artists from all walks of life who were hustling and killing it. It is a hustle because there are no rules on how to sell a painting. You have to make up your own rules along the way and meet the right people.

What caused your own style to gravitate toward Abstract Expressionist-type art?

My Drawing 1A teacher at the UCLA Fine Art department, Professor Don Suggs. He was responsible for reshaping my understanding of art. In a critique where he told me to draw a representation of a mouth, I literally drew my mouth. I had spent nearly 4 hours on this drawing for him to tell me “Why didn’t you just take a photo? It would accomplish the same idea. I’m here to push you to be creative and use your brain to come up with something that’s more than reality”. I was a little hurt by it because I was so consumed in the meticulous process of replicating reality. That’s when it hit me that he was right--modern art should be a representation of reality that transcends the boundaries of reality. We’re no longer confined by the dictates of The Church as in the Renaissance.

In today’s art we have the ability to think of and correspondingly manifest whatever we want so why not take advantage? And so began my journey towards abstraction. I wanted to create beauty and an aura around my work that made people feel pleasure in living with the work. Ultimately, I wanted to make people happy or intrigued when they saw my work. The meaning they would prescribe is entirely up to them and does not have to coincide or overlap with my intended meaning. Within this space for interpretation was where I found the most beauty from my work—because, within this space, people experienced their “moment”, their own feelings, flashbacks, and ideas, their connection to the work.

The transformation of realism into abstraction (2009 to now).
The transformation of realism into abstraction (2009 to now).

Why does art matter?

I believe we all vibrate at different frequencies with different ranges. A WWII army veteran, a barista from Barcelona, an orphan from Cambodia, and a CEO born and raised in Beverly Hills can have vastly different perspectives in life which correspond to differential degrees and varieties of responses to different situations. And even though they all speak different languages, they can all look at a work of art and have an opinion about the "aura" of the work – how the work makes them feel, and what the work makes them think about. They can recall personal experiences, recent emotions, or be so completely befuddled by it that they begin to ask questions and explore something they haven’t been able to experience before. Art has the ability to connect us all even when we are all too preoccupied with our own lives and problems.

What is your favorite piece you’ve created and what was your intended meaning behind it?

"The Lost and Stranded", which I created the end of my freshman year at UCLA, is still my favorite piece I've created. It’s a massive 3D piece that narrates the journey of a slew of kites emerging from a black hole at the center, swirling and entangling themselves within the intricate branches of a massive oak tree. The entire piece is made of different types of paper, ink, acrylic, watercolor, charcoal, and a whole lot of glue.

I detail my inspiration, process, and concept in this blog post.

What advice would you give a beginning female artist?

Being an artist is being an entrepreneur--straight up. You have to be prepared to do whatever you can to get your work out there. Talent doesn't just stop at talent. No one will market your work better than you. Use social media to your advantage, and because you are a girl, flaunt your other beautiful qualities because you are a complete person, and people want to see that--you outside of just your artistic abilities, and they will support and follow you for that.

And as women, we are dynamic, we are beautiful, but at the same time have to still deal with certain inconveniences like people soliciting you not just about your work but about you. You have to stand up for yourself and remember that people can't cross any boundaries that you don't consent to. Get a representative to mediate deals, and always keep it professional. Galleries might take you less seriously because you are younger and you're a girl but in the end the work speaks for itself, so keep making amazing work. Keep pushing, and most importantly surround yourself with people who root for your success, and you will prevail!

Follow Ann’s work on instagram @themodernartista. Website: http://annmcferran.com/.

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