Interview By Sabina McKenna
Photographer Shelly Horan
Interview By Sabina McKenna
Photographer Shelly Horan
Interview: Frances Cannon

Art Girls: Frances Cannon

Frances is an illustrator, painter and performance artist best known for her expressive drawings of full figured women loving their bodies on both their best and worst days. The drawings are self-portraits usually complete with an empowering text mantra or exclamation preaching self-acceptance and body positivity And despite the fact that they are a representation of Frances’s own personal narrative, many aspects of her life are actually aspects of all of our lives, which is why so many people (especially women) find her art so deeply relatable.

Since finding a passion for drawing female figures Frances and her work have gained a huge following. She’s even started a movement called ‘The Self Love Club’ via her Instagram account. The Club is all about self-acceptance and by becoming a member you make a promise, to yourself and the people around you, to follow the three SLC rules: To always show yourself respect, love, forgiveness and understanding. To show each other respect, love, forgiveness and understanding. And to be kind to your body and look after your mental health.

The Club started almost three years ago now and it has since gained hundreds of members, many of whom now have ‘Self Love Club’ tattoos. Opening this week at Enough Space in Prahran is the Self Love Club Zine launch and photo exhibition. The zine will feature 72 submissions from people all over the world who have ‘Self Love Club’ tattoos and is an exciting first physical manifestation of Frances’s self love movement. 

We had a chat to her below about her journey to self acceptance, what she thinks it means to be successful and about the work in her most recent exhibition, “Fluttering in her mind’s eye”. 

Sabina McKenna: Hey Frances! Why did you start drawing ‘the body positive female’? 

Frances Cannon: I’ve always been interested in drawing people but I started drawing the women who look like me and my body about three and a half years ago now; those are the one’s that I’m best known for. I’ve always liked working with portraiture, figures and bodies since I started drawing, just because people tend to be more interesting to me than drawing landscapes. 

SM: Yeah they have kinda become your hallmark – when did you start drawing them?

FC: It just happened really naturally when I was at uni, probably in late second year. In the first couple of years I did a lot of experimentation and playing with lots of different materials, then in the holidays before third year I started drawing the simple figures and they were really what I wanted to draw. I felt a big connection to them I started focusing on drawing them at uni. Since then I’ve just been obsessed, I feel so passionate about them and I know that I’m going to be drawing them forever because I find so much inspiration in the body.

SM: You can really tell when you look at them because they are so amazing and empowering. Where have you seen the biggest impact from this work ?

FC: So when I first started making art I was only just beginning to think about body positivity and accepting not only my outside body, but me on the inside and who I am in terms of the whole deal. Doing these drawings and paintings really helped me expand my knowledge in that area and they have connected me with a lot of other really powerful women who have allowed me to understand feminism more and to become more educated about that. Feminism only really came into my life like four years ago and I am still pretty new to it; my whole up-bringing was not that at all. These drawings connected me to other feminists who then taught me stuff and vice versa – so it’s become a nice big circle of learning which I think is really cool and important.

SM: I agree, there is definitely a lot to learn from your work and the work of other feminist artists. So there is obviously a distinct connection between your work and your experience – tell us about that connection and how that can be a positive thing for others?

FC: I think it’s just good both for you and for whoever you are sharing with because it is such a cathartic experience to be vulnerable and honest. It helps you personally by just being open, and it also helps other people because they can look at you see that you are being you and they think, oh she is being herself; or they’re being themselves and being unapologetic about it, and that means I can do that too. It can inspire and provoke people to be honest about who they are and how they feel. And I think that is the way to make change. 

SM: When have you experienced that yourself?

FC: Going to uni really helped me to alter my mindset, to be challenged and to become more open minded, I think that’s probably the main thing for me. Also, being on Instagram helps because it connects me with a lot of cool artists and activists and makes me keep wanting to learn more and continue the growth. I know that I’m definitely not finished and have a lot more growing to do. (laughs)

SM: So on the topic of Instagram you’ve amassed a huge following in recent years, has having an audience had an effect on your work? 

FC: Yeah and it’s been mainly positive. It does effect what I put up (on Instagram) because certain kinds of drawings get more positive feedback than others, so I do curate what I put on Instagram a fair bit, even though I might be creating a lot of stuff in the background that doesn’t go up. For example, the simple drawings with text tend to get a lot more feedback and a lot more people saying, ‘oh I really relate to this’; ‘this has really helped me’; or ‘this makes me feel good about my body’ etcetera. So because I do have such a big following I do like to put that stuff out there because I know that it might brighten someone’s day or be thought provoking, so I do tend to put more of that up than the more self-portrait-esque kind of ones. I still put those on Instagram as well but it is all a bit more curated toward the audience, just because I know that they are watching. But it’s all very honest and true to what I am feeling on that day too, it’s a bit of a mix.

SM: Have you seen any negative impact? 

FC: I don’t think it’s really had that much of an impact on my work, but trolling comments and stuff like that has impacted me personally in the past. It doesn’t really touch my work, but yeah trolling is stupid and I hate it.

SM: Do you feel like that is how it’s absorbed? Like do you actually think ‘oh yeah that’s so stupid’ and can separate yourself from it? 

FC: Most of the time I can yeah, but it also depends on where I am mentally at the time because sometimes I might get an awful comment on a day that I’m feeling really powerful and I can just shrug it off and be totally fine. But another day I might be having a really bad mental health day and it can be the one thing that really breaks me, so that can be really hard. But I always try and keep it in perspective that what they say does not matter and it doesn’t change how important my work is, or how important I am.

SM: It’s a hard one and I feel like everyone has a different answer to that. So do you think that a following equals success?

FC: I think it can definitely help, but I don’t think it is the be all and end all of successes as an artist. There are plenty of artists who either don’t have Instagram, just have a small following or just don’t like putting their art out there – they’re still brilliant artists and still find success. Maybe their success is more in the physical word, they apply for more galleries and more residencies and that kind of stuff, which is still perfectly legitimate. Even if artists aren’t finding much success or aren’t getting recognised for their work yet, that still doesn’t change how good of an artist they are and I think that it’s important for anyone who is passionate about their work to keep doing it and that’s what artists for however many years have been doing. But on the other hand having a social media platform can be very helpful and it has been for me to get my work out there, to advertise my shows, sell work and make a living. But if you don’t have an Instagram that doesn’t mean you’re not an artist. 

SM: What does success as an artist mean to you?

FC: Personally I am very proud of where I am now, but I’m not gonna stop here. I’d love to keep being able to do shows and expanding on that and not staying too stagnant. I think I will always focus on these sort of ideas and themes, but I am still wanting to grow and change as an artist and to find new techniques and all that sort of stuff. So for me I think success is being able to allow myself to become a better artist as I grow older and I’d love to have more shows because I really enjoy making those pieces and they tend to be a bit more explorative and intuitive. They’re a different kind of work than the drawings that I do for Instagram or for my store.

SM: Great! Ok one more question – when do you feel most beautiful?

FC: Umm it depends on the day obviously (laughs), but I love coming home washing my face, feeling fresh, having no makeup on and being really fresh and cool. I feel really pretty having nothing on. And when I’m with my friends and loved ones – such a cliché answer but it’s a good answer. Being with people that you love and who love you and make you feel beautiful is cool and it’s a good thing. (laughs)

The Self Love Club Exhibition and Zine launch opened on the 2nd of March and continues until the 12th of March at Enough Space in Prahran, follow Frances' work on Instagram here.