Wading River artist Anna Jurinich was born in Zadar, Croatia. Her family came to the United States via Italy in 1958, when she was 11, and settled in Astoria and Flushing.
After studying at the High School of Art and Design in New York City, she studied at Parson’s School of Design on a scholarship. While working at Women’s Wear Daily as a fashion illustrator, she saved up enough to go to Florence at age 22 to study art at Academia Della Bella Arte. She also worked restoring books at a monastery.
Ms. Jurinich met her husband, Giampaolo Fallai, in Florence and they married in 1971. The couple moved to Wading River in 1992.
“The Christmas Odd Box,” Ms. Jurinich’s upcoming self-published book — and the first she both wrote and illustrated — has been in the works for 14 years.
The following is from an interview held in Ms. Jurinich’s Wading River studio, a 10-by-20-foot space she added to her home last fall. Before that, the artist worked in an oversized closet on the second floor.
Q. When did you know that art would be your future?
A. I knew since I was in Croatia in the third grade. I always loved to draw, even on furniture. I could tell I was better than the other kids — I just loved doing it. I didn’t know it could be a career. In 1958, when I was 11, we escaped to Italy on our way to America. And my Italian uncle asked me what I wanted to be. He said, “You should be an artist as a career.” I remember saying, “That’s a job?” I thought it was too good to be true. I said, that’s it, there is no question about it.
Q. How did you find your style?
A. For many years I only drew with ink rather than painting with colors. In art school I was always amazed with students that loved color, because color was not that important to me. What was important was the narrative, the message behind the subject. When my children were born they changed everything. Becoming a mother made me see color in a positive way. I realized that using color became a psychological use. I developed a combination of using color with my ink style.
Q. How does your heritage inform your art?
A. Having been born in Croatia, there was a serious way of looking at the world back then. I grew up when the atmosphere was somber and life was difficult. But I remember having a happy childhood. What really became difficult was when I came [to the United States]. Because of the things I left behind, everything I knew. Also because my parents settled in the big city and feared everything. They didn’t understand and were afraid for their children to venture out in their new home. So when I came here I couldn’t go out and make new friends — hence I just spent all my time drawing, which in turn made me a good artist.
I got accepted into the High School of Art and Design and received a scholarship to Parsons School of Design, which was my saving grace. I had to go to Manhattan and my parents couldn’t say anything.
Q. How has having a new studio space affected your work?
A. It is my place. It seems to open up in my mind a lot of new work. I’m seeing things happening. It is a nice place where I can be really active, where I can work on more than one painting at a time. It is a feeling that I’m worth it.
Q. How did you decide what your studio would look and feel like?
A. I remember standing in the kitchen looking at the dining room wall. I always imagined seeing the sky through the wall. Last year I said to Giampaolo, “I want a real studio.” He said OK. Then I started to think twice. I was worried about the money and maybe we should save money and not spend. He said to me, “Anna, I said yes. Are you changing your mind? Maybe I won’t say yes again. Are you out of your mind?”
The only light I need is the light to see because most of my work is from my head.
Q. Your new book is the first you have both written and illustrated — and the pictures are different. Why?
A. Only because it is for children, whereas my other art is of serious subjects. In this book they are whimsical characters. I’m always annoyed that galleries try to tell artists what they can and cannot do because of the image they want to project. “She paints about the war and she has a children’s book.” What do they think, that only Picasso can paint “Guernica” and create whimsical ceramics?
Q. What inspires you?
A. I think I’m inspired through some kind of spiritual thing. I always feel like I have a job to do. I have to search what this feeling means. As long as I’m working I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. And during the process of work the paintings reveal themselves. Two things — positives and negatives — are very strong in my work. They inspire me equally. Such as what has just happened in Crimea. Despite the world struggles in this existence, to be in this world there is also great joy.
Q. Who are your role models?
A. The artists I feel closest to are Edvard Munch, Albrecht Dürer and William Blake. Munch had psychological undertones, Dürer was detailed and Blake was spiritual.