the sensual world of painter lani mitchell
'I find painting quite sexual. The thick paint and the textural forms can seem like a metaphor for bodily things, orbs, portals, bleeding hearts and other parts.'
Lani Mitchell is interested in the feminine, the world of women, the tactile and evocative. Her canvases are so heavy with thick layers of paint they almost feel sculptural. Most artists could talk for days about what their work means, endlessly intellectualising every brushstroke of smudge of paint, but that's not her style. She just wants you to feel. We're not the first to be charmed by the Melbourne based creative; even Chanel were entranced by her work, asking her to create a recent art film with Margaret Zhang. Ahead of her upcoming show KIND, we talked to her about love, art and why her works are referred to as "her."
Your work is unapologetically feminine, tell us about developing that as a theme.
My paintings are female because I am, and that's how I navigate and understand the world. I always refer to my paintings as her. They're sensitive but also powerful. I find painting quite sexual. The thick paint and the textural forms can seem like a metaphor for bodily things, orbs, portals, bleeding hearts and other parts.
Speaking of metaphor, what do you see your work as trying to communicate?
I'm not consciously trying to communicate anything but through the act of painting I am understanding my feelings and thoughts freely. I want the viewer to feel something, not intellectualise something. I paint from the gut and I want them to react from that same place of intuition, which I feel is a feminine quality. The realm of abstract painting is largely dominated by masculine aesthetics, like most other disciplines, so it's important for me to be true to an aesthetic that is my own and that reflects the feminine.
You have a show coming up, KIND, what ideas have you been exploring for it?
I was exploring my desire for safety and comfort from those that I let in close. Romantic love is a fragile and vulnerable thing. The shapes and forms in the paintings are quite womb-like and they represent this idea of safety and comfort, a nurturing space.
Do you see it as a continuation or deviation from you previous works?
I'm gravitating more towards a sculptural aesthetic. I think I'm a frustrated sculptor at heart. For this show my paintings will hang from the roof on chains back to back. If I move further into sculpture it will need to have the same tactile sensation and gratification as painting gives me. There's something so beautiful and sensual about being able to express something with your hands.
Looking back a little, you've recently collaborated on a film for Chanel, can you tell us a bit about how that came about?
My friend Margaret Zhang was commissioned to create a film for the new CHANEL N°5 L'EAU and she was the one who approached me. She wanted to do something more experimental and modern for them. She thought the inclusion of my art would be evocative and that the imagery of the dripping paint would represent sensual pleasure. I flew up to Sydney for it with my brother Angel who assisted me, he is also an artist. It was really hard work and I couldn't have done it without him. We had a lot of freedom in the sense that Margaret allowed me to paint the model in any way I desired.
Which involved them emerging from a bathtub full of paint.
Margaret came up with that one. We didn't know what a logistical nightmare it would be! Filling up a fake bath tub and trying to make the paint float. The beautiful model was great about the whole thing but it wasn't glamorous at all.
KIND is showing at the METRO gallery in Armadale until 10 June
Text Shannon May Powell
Images via Lani Mitchell