Savvy Painter interview

Embracing the Unknown, with Lani Irwin

Interview on

Read interview here:

Interview with Lani Irwin

“I’m not sure there’s anything that hasn’t been done in painting
except what’s been written on artists own souls. The only thing
possible is to keep working from my own intuition and own
inner self.”

— Lani Irwin

from The Meataphysical Art of Lani Irwin, James Mann, American
Arts Quarterly, Spring 1994

Journal entries

In May 2005 I was reading a biography of Samuel Beckett and it provoked an inner dialogue about titles with personal references. He had written a piece called “Dante and the Lobster”. I loved the title without knowing why or what it referred to. The biography itself was elucidating relationships between time, events and people in his life to the fictional events and characters in his writings. How can one access such personal information to create titles and environments? And is it appropriate to give paintings titles that are more than descriptive? I have gone back and forth, at times giving simple descriptive titles and at times finding a line of poetry or words with multiple readings. I had forgotten about this entry in my journal until I discovered it today as I have been engaged in creating what could be called Wertmüllian titles, titles that have two parts. I don’t think of the titles as verbal equivalents of the paintings because I don’t believe that is a possibility. Paintings stand on their own to be seen and felt by the viewer who approaches with his or her own history, memories. Instead I think of these titles as possibilities or perhaps reveries.
Somehow I felt that a single title carried too much weight. The paintings seem more expansive and need more space. Giving them multiple titles, at times titles that could be considered unrelated to the actual images, encourages an additional level of interaction or imaginary wandering that is not confined to a single identifiable object or mood but rather to a theater of possibilities.

– Lani Irwin, Journal Entry 2007

Since my last show, global fears and insecurities have increased to a level at times insupportable.  My only refuge has been the studio.  Although these paintings do not have a specific narrative content or symbolic reference, I see in them an exploration L of both the inner emotions that play ever more within our psyche and, most particularly with the series of nudes, the strength, beauty and vulnerability that is so much an aspect of the human condition.  Over the years, I have realized that art is an extremely important element for mankind and the creation of beauty something that can inspire both myself and others.

As I look at this new series of paintings, I can almost see a progression of emotional states, from the quiet reflective mood of The Poet to the energy of Crossed Drapes, finding a balance between the two states in Duality.  The ballet shoes series reflects back to my childhood dreams, dreams of art and enchantment.  The luna moth is a fragile transparent being, and in the painting Luna Moth , it is held by a nude woman,  showing her own vulnerability in what seems such a fragile world,  her own potential for metamorphosis implied. The Three Graces  and Allegory continue to develop this theme of vulnerability combined with strength and beauty.  Clothing them or adorning these figures would have lessened this impact and diverted our attention.  I paint without models so all of these figures evolve out of an interaction between myself and the painting as it unfolds, an expression to some extent of the inner condition suspended in the dialogue of pictorial elements. The most recent two paintings, Red Rose Enigma and Yellow Rose Enigma continue this series of personal allegories that remain contemporary by virtue of the fact that any symbolic content derives from a  personal context rather than clearly defined symbolism or metaphor,  both on my part and on the part of the viewer. One could say that these are  paintings in which the narrator commingles with the viewer in a bizarre theatre of the absurd, an enigmatic view of the world.

Lani Irwin
Assisi, 2003
Diary entries:

Today, once again, a friend asked me about the narrative content of my paintings, insisting that it must be there, only he couldn’t grasp it. And I said there is none, at least no specific narrative. There is the narrative that is akin to the dream world, often non-sequential and subjective, the associations being different for each person. Perhaps they even vary for myself from day to day, hence the need to add or take away objects and figures, change colors. The symbolism in a dream can be interpreted or read differently each time one approaches it. I love the strange disquiet of some of the paintings of the early Italian Renaissance. I often do not know the particulars of the story, nor do I need to. And so it is with my own paintings.

Wouldn’t the attempt to explain and define paintings divest them of the mystery and ambiguity that is an essential part of them? If you take an ordinary object and isolate it or put it in an unexpected environment or relationship with other objects, it takes on a life of its own, it surpasses its original identity. I want that kind of tension in my paintings. Life is full of uncertainty, unexpected juxtapositions, forms that are magical. Too often these moments go unnoticed.

My work has little direct relationship to what is happening in my daily life. The paintings take many weeks to complete so that even if there is an event, a feeling, a mood that initiates the image, after a month or more, the image will settle into itself. When I walk into the studio in the morning, while it is often clear that an arm, a head or the wall must be repainted, I have to spend time looking, groping, trying to reenter the painting. Sometimes I find myself looking at a book or writing, stealing glances, almost as if I need to sneak up on the painting to find out what will happen next.

I’m fascinated by the symbolic nature of medieval painting, the complexity of flat patterns within the compositional rectangle, the ambiguity of relationships, both real and pictorial or spatial, those forms and patterns interlocking, creating intervals that are as important as the objects or figures. I love early Italian and Flemish paintings. I strive for that enchanted light that glows from some inner source. I love the implied drama of gesture held in suspended time, no time. Ambiguity. Questions. Mystery.

I paint the paintings to have an aura of quiet — the surface is relatively smooth, brush strokes minimized, color relationships and range not violent or active. But I do not wish the paintings themselves to be silent. Therefore I select objects that speak. No audible message issues forth, but clearly something is there, the vibration of object to object, object to figure. Although I cannot really understand what they are saying, I can sense the vibration, the music. It guides my selection of participants, choreographs their positions in the composition and invites the viewer to quietly enter into this world of disquiet.