Anna Rita Alatan, also known as ARA, creates what she calls an “emotional dream world” in her work, a space in which she gives the inner lives of the women she depicts a vividly physical realization. Whether they are posed in exotic locales, surrounded by flowers or floating in the sky, her subjects are an integral part of environments that express their thoughts and dreams. Often their eyes are closed or shaded over, underlining the idea that what we are seeing is a world that only fully exists inside their heads.

Painting in acrylics on canvas, ARA makes the most of a color palette that runs from intense reds to soft, dreamy blues and lilacs. Her ability to animate those colors with light results in images that seem to glow from within, lending each painting an aura of spirituality. Her keen sense of space and depth gives weight and presence to abstract backgrounds, turning the world of dreams into a convincing reality. “Paint can create atmospheres of magic where anything can happen,” she says, and her paintings are living examples of that magic.

But it is ARA’s ability to give the dreamlike world she depicts a vibrant and direct sense of life that ultimately makes her images so powerful. Although the women in her images often seem to hover weightlessly before the viewer, their faces and bodies come across as thoroughly real and present. The artist’s sharp eye for facial expressions and her skill at capturing the positions of her subjects’ bodies in a believable way make the fantasy worlds that contain them all the more compelling. She turns the dreams that she presents into stories with flesh-and-blood heroines. Calling her work “painted poetry,” ARA says that the desire to tell stories is a main part of what inspires her, and the vivid scenarios of her paintings fulfill that intention.