By NOAH BECKER June 2022
Anna Delvey, also known as Anna Sorokin, joined me from ICE custody for a conversation about her first NFT, her recent art exhibit in New York, and her favorite fashion designer. His reputation, personal struggles and legal troubles are well known – so it seemed like a good time to discuss other aspects of his life and career. If you don’t know his story, google it, lots of information is available including the Netflix series based on his life.
Besides being publicly confused with Boris Becker’s son, Noah Becker, in the German mainstream media, my interaction with Anna Delvey has mostly been about art – she’s quite sophisticated about art and artists. I also thought how much of a feat putting together a solo exhibition of Anna was – given that she is currently owned by ICE. Anna had the help and curatorial skills of Chris Martine of Art Club Founders, a young art dealer based in New York. Martine is also adept at organizing major events and the performative show at the opening of the exhibition at the Public Hotel in New York corresponds perfectly to Anna Delvey’s image.
I was lucky to have an audience with Anna during this time – and happy to hear about her art, her thoughts on fashion and other aspects of her story mostly overlooked by the international press. …
Noah Becker: When you come up with design ideas, do you come up with an idea before launching it or during the process of making it?
Anna Delvey: I always have the general concept in mind before I start – but the drawing often evolves as I progress. I change my outfit, I add details, I invent different captions and text. Sometimes I go back and make changes to work that’s already been completed. It’s a constant work in progress until the very end, until the pieces slip out of my grasp (laughs).
Becker: Do you want these works of art to influence the public’s perception of your story? If I’m right, you don’t usually care what people think of you? But if you made an impression through art, how do you think people might be affected by your art?
Delvey: I hope that through my work people will see that there are many different ways to deal with adversity, that it’s okay to try things and fail, and that you can turn something negative into something creative. The best things often come from making mistakes. Most people experience failures and setbacks of varying magnitudes throughout their lives. The only ones who have never failed are those who have never tried anything. I believe this is why my story resonates with so many people.
I hope that after seeing my pieces, people who may have been afraid of failure before, would rethink their reservations and go try something new.
Becker: You have very specific tastes in fashion and have talked about studying fashion illustration. What are your general thoughts on the direction fashion is taking? And also who is your current favorite fashion designer? I have the impression that the public would be delighted to know this information.
Delvey: My favorite designer? – so hard to pick one – I’ve obviously always loved Rick Owens. I also like Raf Simons. Can’t wait to see what Amina Muaddi does next – I’m obsessed with her sandals, can’t wait to be somewhere I can wear them. I’m glad to see the support and broader media coverage of color designers and those from less conventional backgrounds. I hope the fashion industry will continue down the path of inclusion and diversity, embracing different sizes, visions and voices.
Becker: Did you expect to have an exhibition for your art? Have you always wanted to make art and show art, or is the artistic aspect of your life an unexpected turn?
Delvey: People were intrigued and wanted to own part of my story as an artwork, and I just gave them what they wanted. I don’t think I ever planned on pursuing a career in art. This happened as a natural progression from all the attention my work has received over the past two years.
It happened in incremental steps, and it kind of started with one of the sketches I did during my trial that inadvertently ended up in the NYT, and then I created more art while I was in jail upstate, then my works were animated for an HBO documentary, and once I got out Alfredo Martinez approached me posting an article in Page Six – the rest is up to me. ‘story.
Becker: How do you stay strong in the face of incarceration? I know a lot of people outside of prison who are less productive than you. When I talk to you, you always seem to be ambitious and excited about life. What is your advice to people to stay happy and productive?
Delvey: I certainly wouldn’t use the word “happy” to describe myself in prison now. Keeping busy and doing things is my way of coping with my current situation. I still hate it here, every day. But having a busy schedule makes it easier to distance myself from reality.
I have a tablet and I can call and message people in my contacts all day, which helps to stay in touch, check in, and get things done. Having WiFi access, even if it is mainly limited to information and communication applications, makes all the difference. I wouldn’t know what I would do if I didn’t have it. I especially hate weekends and holidays here. It’s always the most depressing moment – and it’s when I feel the most isolated in the world.
I’m lucky to have a huge support system all over the world and all my team members who help me on a daily basis. Plus, there are always new people coming up with great ideas on a regular basis, so I’m able to grow and build on my existing foundation even while I’m still here.
There is never a dull moment. Also, I am currently in ICE custody, which is considered civil detention and not “criminal detention”, so the context of my incarceration is different this time around. It’s so sad that the US government criminalizes immigration issues and sees jail as a one-size-fits-all solution to all problems. There are so many alternatives to incarceration that serve the same purpose of surveillance and do not pose such a burden on US taxpayers, but DHS still chooses to keep people in ICE custody for years.
Becker: Yeah, it’s just shameful what they’re doing. Beyond your image in the press, I sense a kind of female “Robin Hood” story developing through your drawings that lends itself well to a series of works. Do you feel like that kind of Robin Hood character?
Delvey: I leave it up to people to interpret it as they wish. I am certainly not adapting my story to a certain narrative. It’s up to them if they see any similarities; I intentionally leave room for interpretation. I just try to do my thing and stay focused on what comes next.
Becker: Your work is autobiographical, but you’ve also been heavily romanticized by Hollywood. Are you happy with the Netflix version of you merging with your art and your personality, or is there another side to you?
Delvey: I revisited some of the Netflix references in my later works only because I thought it was timely commentary since the show came out earlier this year, but I see this narrative as something something I can move on from – don’t get stuck. I would I don’t want to talk about it in two years for example. I see no need for me to sift through every episode of the Netflix series pointing out inaccuracies. This is Shonda’s creation, inspired by my story. She had creative license. Invent Anna is not a documentary and was never intended as such.
Like other people, I am constantly changing and my views are evolving. I don’t remain static just because a certain period of my life was captured on a small screen. I hope that I will have the opportunity to move on and not have to try to rebuild my life inside a prison.
Becker: In your drawing, “I am the show”, there is a figure with a shiny dress in the middle of the image. Does it come from an experience or a real moment in your life?
Delvey: It’s figurative. I think the piece did a good “kick” and captured the mood well. Because that’s what it feels like it all came out in the end – the cumulative last few years culminating in a Netflix show.
Becker: I keep thinking about your “Creating Anna” drawing, which shows prison outfits and designer clothes on each half of the image, sort of split down the middle of the page – it’s very humorous – are you going to be humorous?
Delvey: This drawing was actually meant to be darker. And it was meant to represent the point of view of the prosecutor/criminal justice system – like, they have all these options and they have the power to change my life and steer it in a certain direction.
Becker: You said of your future plans, “I guess we’ll have to wait and see.” I understand why you want to keep people guessing. But is there anything you can share here without giving too much away?
Delvey: I have so many interesting projects going on. I would obviously like to announce everyone when the time comes, and let everyone breathe on their own. My very next is my first NFT deposit, which will essentially be a token that acts as a calling card for the owner to access me – it’s coming later this month.
As I mentioned, I receive new offers and collaboration ideas daily, from all over the world. My recent art has sparked such a great comeback, I can’t wait to see what comes of it.
I try to stay selective with the collaborations I choose to pursue. And of course I’m still working on my book, my podcast, my clothing line, and my criminal justice reform initiative. WM
To hear Whiteshot Art World Podcast by Noah Becker with guest Anna Delvey go here.
To purchase an original print or drawing by Anna Delvey, contact Chris Martine at Art Club Founders