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Interview with Tahnee Lonsdale

April 12, 2016

Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get into art? When did you know you wanted to be a painter? I grew up in West Sussex, in a village called Rogate about 2 hours south of London. I am 3rd of 4 sisters. My dad was in the rag trade, he was the first person to bring jeans to the UK from California and sell them as fashion items in the 70s. He was nicknamed ‘The Blue Jean King’. My mum was a model; she’s still unbelievably beautiful. My sisters are all creative and very smart. We were all encouraged to forge our own path and do what we love. Mine was always art, and I was never made to feel I needed anything else. Growing up, art was not that present in our lives. We were very outdoorsy and nature was right on our doorstep, but culturally, it was a bit barren! However, my parents sent us to a very progressive school where the focus was very much on the arts. I imagine this is where my love of painting began. My art tutor from the age of 13 was particularly inspiring. He didn’t like many people and them him, but for some reason we got along and I probably wouldn’t have pursued art if it wasn’t for him.

You recently moved to LA. Has your British origination had an influence on producing work in LA? How? Does location affect your work? Yes, I moved here 6 months ago. I had been desperate for a change for a few years before we made the leap. I love London but I spent a lot of my time growing up in Florida, so the sunshine was calling me back. I don’t know if my Britishness has had a huge impact on my work, but my foreignness definitely has. Something alien about the unfamiliarity, knowing no one and having no idea how to get from a to b, things as simple as a food shop become a real tactical mission. Then there is the glare of the sun, the bleached out buildings, handprinted signage and wide-open horizon, just blue, as far as the eye can see. There also aren’t many rounded edges. In London the Victorian architecture had so many floral flourishes, the lines were softer. Here it’s harsh and blunt. All of these things have of course hustled their way into my paintings. The top of a neighboring building, framed by an industrial window, crisscrossed by electric wires. The colors, there’s a lot more contrast. In my paintings the figures have become more isolated. Their jobs much more gender specific.

Why paint? I didn’t begin as a painter. When I started my BA, I was intent in illustration, using only Indian ink and a dipper. This lasted a year before my tutors encouraged me to up the scale and experiment with some color. So I bought a huge roll of Fabriano paper and some cheap poster paints, and started tentatively with my familiar technique, but bigger, and then just started adding paint in a spontaneous and slightly nervous fashion, until I relaxed a bit and became more confident with my new medium. I now consider color to be my most fundamental process. It often has the first and last word. I love acrylic because it is so fast drying and I can make mistakes, and work with them or over them almost instantly. I love layering thin layers over heavy opaque layers. I have worked in oil but I find it very limiting. Although I wish I didn’t as I am constantly trying to achieve the rich and opulent feel of oil by filling my acrylics with mediums of all sorts.

What is your relationship with color? I have a very strong relationship with color. It feels very intuitive but at the same time totally mystifying. It can make or break a painting, and will trouble me for days. It helps me to study the palettes of artists who I admire as I find the reason for the admiration is often the colours. De Kooning, Bacon, Diebenkorn, they all have incredible palettes. When I dislike a painting it’s normally because too many prime colors have been used next to each other, this can be very disturbing to view and leaves me feeling a bit annoyed. At the moment I’m enjoying working with varying tones of the same color, paired with one or two other colors, used minimally. You use gesture very specifically in your paintings. Can you talk about the use of gesture in your work? Is it related to emotion, texture, form, etc.? My gestures are as spontaneous as they are contrived. As in life I am fighting a constant battle between order and chaos. The chaos comes first as there is nothing to lose. A blank canvas, which is order itself. Then the reining in of wayward gestures. Boxing in what seems like a spasm of brushstrokes. Like weeding your garden, they keep coming back and you keep cutting back. The battle between nature and civilization is palpable. If you’ve ever felt restraint in your life you will know the urge to push against it.

Can you walk us through your process? A blank canvas can be very daunting. The bigger it is the more apprehension you feel. I find the best way to overcome this is to dive straight in without much thought or consideration, that will come later. It doesn’t really matter what I lay down, as it most likely won’t ever be seen again. However, it will influence the progression of the work. But I like the accidentality of this process. You can plan and plan a work, but you need to leave room for accidental surprises. I often use oranges or yellows at the early stages as they make great undercoats and it’s nice to have a bit of orange poking through at the end of the process. I don’t have a set plan with a painting but I have a lot of sketchbook ideas and works on paper littered all over the floor and taped to the walls, I use these as reference points. They will suggest an initial composition, which will most probably be tampered with later. Once this initial composition is established I work on the color, making some more considered choices, and then again the composition. It’s a to and fro for the first half. Then the order and chaos. It will be too rigid so I’ll need to wreck it, then it will lack definition, so I’ll need edges and specific decisions. The final process involves the figures or characters; they are what bring meaning to an ambiguous landscape. They give depth and a narrative.

In your artist statement you talk about beliefs, spaces, and reflecting on faith. However, I also see a strong theme of identity in your work. The figures are never given specific faces, yet they seem to take on specific roles. Can you talk a little bit about the role that identity does or does not consciously play in your work?

Identity is a theme I have become a lot more familiar with in my work. The roles I play in life have become much more obvious in my paintings. My role as a wife, mother and woman in general. The tug between needing to be at home and spending more time with my children and being in my studio working, it’s something my husband doesn’t experience, it’s very clear what is expected of him and he is fulfilling that role, but it is more ambiguous the role of a modern mother. I am torn. How much caring is expected of me and how much of myself am I prepared to lose/give? The figures are essential manifestations of myself, but could also be that of any mother/wife. The figures aren’t trying to be specific, just suggestions of a living being.

What inspires you to make your work?

I recently went to the newly opened Hauser and Wirth in LA. That was very inspiring. As a painter who hasn’t strayed far from the canvas, I found myself longing to build something. To see if I could transfer my ideas to a sculpture. Seeing shows has been the catalyst for a lot of my collections. Most recently a combination of Diebenkorn and Bacon. I need that reference and the drive. The act of visiting a gallery is both disturbing and enlightening. Creating an urgency to get working, if the inertia doesn’t set in before hand. Again it is the tug between longing and fear, order and chaos, push and pull.

What are some of your plans and goals for the future?

A lot of my art life has involved creating without an end game. I had an inmate need to paint but there was no show at the end. This is changing as I have gained some representation and have shows planned for the future, but what I would love is to create work for a specific show and space. To use that space as inspiration for the work. If these shows could be a different parts of the world that I would need to visit and be inspired by, that would be great also. I’d love to up the scale of my work even bigger, it’s so all encompassing to work on something much bigger than yourself, you get lost in the work.

 Who is your favorite artist right now and why?

The books on my desk would suggest Rose Wylie, Francis Bacon, Richard Diebenkorn and Philip Guston. But what is more interesting to me are the artists on par with me or may be the next step ahead of me, that I find though Instagram. I also came across an artist I love at an art fair in LA; she’s called Ad Minoliti. She ‘frequently references the domestic setting as a site of gender role assignment in her work’. This is something I can relate to. Then there is Marcel Eichner, I first saw his work in Berlin but have seen it since at Miami Context.

TAHNEE LONSDALE

Questions by Sarah Sickles