Tahnee Lonsdale’s latest solo show, Pipe Dreams and Rabbit Holes, is a combination of works made prior to moving from London to Los Angeles and some newer works made post move. Keep reading for more about how being a mother, a woman, and living in the present day affects her work.
Lonsdale is a wife, mother, painter, and above all, a storyteller. All of these traits are evident in her paintings. Her use of gender-associated colors is intentional, as is the visual abstraction found within each frame. Utilizing the theme of escapism while playing with gender roles through surreal depictions of the environment around her, Lonsdale paints her role as a mother, an artist, and a woman in the 21st century.
Pipe Dreams and Rabbit Holes features 10 original works, all created within the last two years. Each painting is larger than 36 in. wide and long, allowing the viewer to be almost physically immersed into the intangible world created by Lonsdale. We can begin to understand each environment through slightly obscured clues, like a deformed bathtub that can only be identified by the dark shape within its midst resembling a drain. In an interview with Lonsdale, she said, “To me, abstraction always comes from a place of reality. I am starting to feel like I need more structure to my thoughts and ideas. Before, I would express myself through narrative and storytelling, but now my abstractions are coming from solid things and the objects are significant to what I am trying to express. The real anchors my paintings and gives the abstractions substance.” (2)
Paintings such as Primp, Floss, Self Portrait in the Kitchen, and Self Portrait in the Bedroom take place in domestic settings, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a bedroom respectively. These paintings have a stronger sense of order to them than the chaotic scenes we see in As All Things Fell, Milk and Crackers, Unfurl, and Spread. In the most recently aforementioned paintings, the lack of definition in the environment in particular, the background, forces those who observe them to focus on the forms and figures within the frame. Oyster and Riba fall somewhere in the middle, using surreal settings to host distinct figures. Major themes in Lonsdale’s work include gender roles, sex, and escapism. There is heavy, intentional use of pink and blue, stereotypically gendered colors. In each room, we see how these colors are used to describe the gender roles that take place in this alternate universe. The bathroom scenes in both Primp and Floss are dominantly pink. However, the kitchen, a place historically perceived as feminine, is dominantly blue in Self Portrait in the Kitchen. These make one take notice of the gender-neutral places featured in Lonsdale’s world. Self Portrait in the Bedroom is primarily green, a neutral ground of sorts, something that cannot be ignored in the grand scheme of immersive paintings where pink and blue swirl together in a heightened frenzy of passion.
We have also talked with Lonsdale about why escapism is so present in her work. With the creation of an alternate reality, and the title of the show, there is no denying this theme. There isn’t a painting in the early works of this collection that lacks a window or a door, a way to escape from that reality. “One half of the collection was made in London, before I moved to LA, and the other half was made in LA after I moved last year. The London paintings are much more severe in the mark making, harsher lines, and geometric shapes, giving them a feeling of being trapped and boxed in. When you get to the LA half, the lines begin to soften, my style softens, as does the palette, and the tone has moved into a much more sexual place, one of longing to become who I was before children, a need to take back my body and use it for something other than motherhood. There is a definite tug between order and chaos, motherhood and wifely duties.” (2)
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) once said, “I found that I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say in any other way—things that I had no words for.” (1) It’s clear to see how this quote also relates to Lonsdale’s work. Georgia O’Keeffe looked inward and painted what she found. Sometimes it was beautiful floral scenes; sometimes it was abstracted, colorful, and ambiguous shapes forming some sort of landscape. But being herself was crucial to her work. She didn’t paint what was in front of her; she painted herself. In a way, Tahnee Lonsdale does the same through her alternate universe. O’Keeffe and Lonsdale both use immense and intense color palettes while painting vague, both literally and metaphorically, self-portraits. Lonsdale paints from her life. She’s a mother, a wife, an artist, and now an immigrant. She balances spending time with her child with spending time in the studio. She examines how her body and her relationship with her husband have changed with the addition of children into their family and thus their daily life. She scrutinizes how gender roles influence her. Of course, her story can all be found within the abstracted world she has created in Pipe Dreams and Rabbit Holes.
“You can see that whilst in London, I had a great desire to escape. There are a lot of windows and doors, a feeling of being boxed in. The doors and windows are a means to escape, a kind of rabbit hole, the likes of what Alice fell down. Doorways are only open a crack and show a totally different world on the other side. The LA paintings tend to say the same thing, but I have moved onto pipes and plugholes. I do have a very big bath in my LA house, maybe this has something to do with it!” (2) For further reading about Tahnee Lonsdale and her work, check out our interview with her here. Text by Sarah Sickles Sources: “Georgia O’Keeffe.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. “Interview with Tahnee Lonsdale.” E-mail interview. 15 July 2016.