NEW YORK—Imagine a place where a master will teach you to draw and paint like a master, bend light onto canvas, and give you the tools to create impossible worlds in charcoal and oils. What’s more, you’d get free room, board, and tuition so you can focus on the art.
Here’s the best part: this place exists. But here’s the catch: only 10 exceptionally dedicated students get accepted each year.
Ani Art Academies look like ordinary realist ateliers from the outside—rigorous training, strict adherence to representational standards—but their mode of operating and larger purpose are unexpected. Ani takes the most crucial fundamentals of creating fine art—something many consider rarefied or mysterious—and just gives it away.
“A big part of our philosophy is that art education should be made available to anyone who wants to partake of it regardless of their station or resources,” said Anthony Waichulis, a towering and boisterous man whose warm casualness belies his long resumé, which includes nearly three pages of exhibitions and awards.
In 1998, Waichulis founded the atelier that sparked the creation of Ani Art Academies.
The Saga Begins
Waichulis began training aspiring representational artists using his own curriculum, which treats mastering draftsmanship, anatomy, and perception with as much methodology and seriousness as music academies treat the learning of scales and chords. This method allows budding artists to quickly gain and solidify the basic tools they need to create life-like images.
“It’s a very step-by-step kind of process that has concrete goals and easily quantifiable variables that can be easily measured,” he said. To demonstrate, he scribbled a gradation on a sticky note—a student can either get the requisite number of values in that specified space or he cannot.
The efficacy of Waichulis’ way of teaching caught the eye of Timothy Jahn, an art instructor teaching in New Jersey. At the time, one of Jahn’s pupils was Tim Reynolds, a trader who made his fortune on Wall Street. A lover of art all his life, Reynolds, now 47, had just begun to learn to draw.
“Nobody said I had any skill whatsoever for drawing,” he said. “I was just like everybody else, marveling at those kids in fifth grade who could just pick up a pencil and draw something. I could never do that.”
Since then, Reynolds learned that great artists were made, not born, and became intrigued with arts education. Since his early 20s he had wanted to build schools in developing countries, and always assumed they’d be primary schools. But when he learned about Waichulis through his instructor, he found his calling.
With permission from Waichulis to use his curriculum, Reynolds began building Ani in 2010. He chose the name “Ani” as a play on the Swahili word “Andjani,” meaning the “road” or the “path ahead.” The original school, Waichulis Studio, became incorporated as Ani Art Academy Waichulis and is located in the forests of northeastern Pennsylvania.
So far, Reynolds has founded an Ani Academy in Anguilla and the Dominican Republic. Both schools are situated in peaceful scenic natural environs.
To give the talents access to a market, Reynolds builds luxury villas close by for tourists. Student work is displayed inside, giving visitors the opportunity to buy. All proceeds go directly to the artist. Reynolds bankrolls all of this via the Tim Reynolds Foundation and Ani Village International. He is ready to open the doors to Ani Sri Lanka and Ani Thailand next year.
If it all seems a misstep away from promoting a certain style or type of artist, Reynolds and Waichulis want everyone to rest assured that the curriculum only takes students as far as acquiring hard skills, and is hands-free when it comes to personal style or artistic mission.
“A lot of people say, ‘Your students’ early work all look the same—it all looks like a camera did it.’ I tell people, well, we have to do that first,” said Waichulis. “We have to be able to mimic what is around us so we can communicate effectively. And when they reach a certain point of skill development, they begin their first creative project and compose something of themselves… We have no say in this, and this polices us to stay out of their aesthetic development.”
From Reynolds’ perspective, the point is to develop “lots of new artists with very diverse backgrounds, united only by know-how and not by aesthetics; it’s to see how people can embrace their culture using the fundamentals of how to express [themselves] using paint on canvas.”
Waichulis describes his method of teaching as “logical and unorthodox”—logical in that it removes the guesswork from determining what is successful drawing and what isn’t, and unorthodox in that “it is not based on any primary aesthetic, nor is it based on an an amorphous set of values,” Waichulis said. “I wanted to develop a curriculum that teaches fundamentals that any artist can develop throughout their career.”
Unlike most art schools that encourage play in various media, Ani Art Academies force the student to become proficient by limiting their materials to charcoal and pastel, and then oils.
“There are a great many characteristics of the charcoal and pastel (the manner is which is it applied, combined, layered, manipulated, refined, etc…) that is closely akin to our wet-media material of choice—oil paint,” Waichulis wrote in a follow-up email.
The studio curriculum is divided into seven sections: introduction to drawing, governing the material, anatomy of form, natural forms, introduction to painting, painting techniques, and endgame.
“The ‘endgame’ covers everything from painting surface finishes, to varnishes, framing, and representation dynamics (galleries, agents, etc…),” Waichulis explained. “We like to make sure that the artists not only have the ability to create the highest quality works with the best possible presentation, but that they also have the ability to navigate the industry that these works will eventually be submitted to.”
The first major exhibition of student and instructor work from the Ani Art Academy Waichulis is being held at Rehs Contemporary Galleries at 5 East 57th St. in Manhattan until May 3. The theme of the exhibition is “The Big Gamble,” alluding to the gamble that representational artists take in the contemporary art market. Each student took the theme in a different direction.
For more information, visit www.aniartacademies.org