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Art is always a reflection of life for Tahnee Lonsdale. At one point, that meant an exploration of interior spaces and domestic life with a surreal vision of a bedroom or a kitchen table. As of late, her work has become untethered from earthly mundanity, reaching toward the celestial and otherworldly, pared down in color (though still rich) and subject.
Her solo show of new work “True Romance” is on view at Night Gallery in Los Angeles through June 18. There, lush color fields of larger-than-life figures filled the composition—on bended knee, huddled together, head tilted. They directly address our relationship with ourselves, and perhaps a higher power. Inspired by Lonsdale’s growing spirituality, they wonder what it might mean to fall in love with yourself. What if we could match that first high of falling in love with someone else, internally?
While the body of new paintings was coming together Whitewall spoke with the artist about paring down her palette and turning inward.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about how you arrived at this idea of “True Romance,” as the title of the show suggests, with these works?
TAHNEE LONSDALE: I don’t really separate each show from the next. It’s a continuation, and the work tends to reflect where I am in my life at the moment. It’s always being quite autobiographical. Really, this is the residue of everything that built up over the pandemic and how our lives all changed. Pre-pandemic, it was much more external—it was about domesticity and gender roles. Through the pandemic, everything turned inward and the work started to align with my spiritual practice and this greater search for meaning. It feels like a search and an ode to taking care of yourself.
I think the work can be seen in two lights. It can be seen as a very external love, like partnership, the intimacy you crave from another person, which is a very human thing. But it’s also about internal love, the idea of romancing something within, romancing this connection with your higher self, and with your soul, essentially. I feel like I’m touching on something that feels a little scary but also really important and expansive.
WW: These works do elicit such an emotional response from the viewer, whichever way you’re reading it.
TL: A lot of the work is really grounded in the flesh—carnal love, there’s a lot of that in there, desire for connection to another human being, to be touched, and seen. But then there’s quite a lot that is more celestial, there’s the angelic in there, the spirit, the guides. I feel like they’re very connected. When you feel love for another human being, it’s a very spiritual thing. When you’re really in love with someone, you feel connected to something greater, because nothing can hurt you. You’re protected. I feel like, if only we can nurture that feeling for ourselves.
WW: The composition of these paintings feels different from earlier works. The figures are filling the frame. We’re right up there with them. Can you tell us about that?
TL: Yeah, they are very reduced. There is a confidence in removing everything. I feel like I suddenly know what I need to paint about. It’s suddenly really clear to me, and I feel confident enough in what I’m painting to remove everything and focus on these totems of people. When you remove stuff, you keep removing layers, you keep reducing things down and down until you have something pure and the essence of what you’re trying to say, which is essentially just creating a feeling rather than creating a story. Before, the story was really important. And now it’s more of a feeling that I’m trying to get across.
WW: You posted a recent work on Instagram with the ask, “How is your heart today?” Do you see the paintings also as a way of checking in not just with yourself but the viewer?
TL: I really want people to connect with them and to feel something, to be brought back from everything else around you and just feel something. “How is your heart today?” My friend asks me that a lot. It’s about reconnecting with how you feel. Really, how does your body feel? When you really settle down, close your eyes, how do you feel? Where are you holding tension? Where are you feeling sad? Where are you feeling happy or excited? It’s about reconnecting with yourself—even for a millisecond—a moment, where everything else disappears, and you can just feel.
Because most of the time we’re not. Most of the time we don’t realize we’re carrying so much weight around. You need to breathe, you need to center yourself, you need to look around and be present. We’re always living ahead a few seconds, a few hours, a few years ahead. But everything in this moment is okay. Just take a breath and be present.
WW: Do you see the painting process as connected to your spiritual practice, too?
TL: It’s definitely a spiritual practice. Everything starts with my sketchbook. It’s intuitive sketching and like a meditative practice. There’s no plan. I sit down, and check in with myself. I guess each painting is a snapshot of where I was at that time—spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally. But there’s no destination, there’s no resolution. When I finish a painting it’s not like I’ve resolved something or gotten the answer. It’s just like a continual creating and putting out. It’s kind of a trance-like thing, painting. You’re in it and then you move on to the next one. There is no end. It just keeps going.