Tali Lennox’s expressive paintings bring to mind the unpolished portraits of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Egon Schiele-Crude, imperfect, and honest studies.
In Layered, her recent solo show at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, the New York-based artist takes on herself as the subject and fuses an interest in the history of portrait painting and the instantaneous image outlets that dominate our lives today. Lennox lived and worked inside the SoHo gallery for one month, creating the show’s entire body of work in that short stretch of time. If “selfies” are carefully curated Instagram posts intended to elicit the maximum “likes,” Lennox’s reve- aling portraits are far from that. “With any form of art—whe- ther it’s acting or singing or writing” she explains “if it comes from an honest place, then the audience believes you.”
KH Tali, congratulations on the show! It’s a big landmark to have your first solo show.
TL Thanks! For me, even when you’re getting the good reviews, the most important thing to remember is that at the end of the day the work is something that you do privately and on your own. So, at the same time as feeling buzzed about it, I’m trying not to focus on that too much, and more on things I find inspiring to make the work.
KH Did you go into the exhibition with the idea that they were all going to be self-portraits?
TL No. It’s actually something that I felt more passiona- tely about than my original concept. The whole reaction to social media and to a casual narcissism and our need to gratify ourselves with constantly posting very exterior facades of ourselves and curated lives. It’s finding that balance of authenticity. It’s so liberating to show people sides of ourselves that aren’t flattering. The self-portraits, they’re less about me. I wanted it to be about what we all feel and things we can all relate to, especially that women can relate to. I think the more we are honest about the sides that we maybe hide or feel aren’t flattering or that people will judge us for, the easier it is. Because when you hide those things, it becomes a lonelier place for you.
Self Portrait 03-04-15, 2015
KH I’m wondering what you learned about yourself during the experience.
TL I think people are always surprised when they realize that we’re all actually quite the same. We all have those different faces and layers. I think that’s so important to talk about, it’s liberating. Especially when we feel the pressure to have x, y, and z followers, or to post a picture of ourself and have the ex-boyfriend like it. It’s so exterior and it’s being taken more seriously than real life for many people. Why don’t we just want face-to-face interactions? What’s that lack of communication in real life when we have to sit at a dinner table fiddling on our phones? I’m not against it all, because I use it and it’s helped me a lot with people knowing what I do. I think it’s so important to discuss because if we don’t talk about it now, we don’t know what it’s going to be like when 10-year-olds are using Instagram – I think they probably already are. It’s a big part of everyone’s life. It’s like our diet now.
KH I read that you were craving to work with your hands. Is there something about oil paint – the tactility of it, specifically – that attracted you?
TL I just love oil paint. I love the colors. I can’t deal with something that dries instantly. With oil paint you can really transform and work into and go thick. It is messy and I like that it takes time. With oils, it’s a commitment. You have to set it up and wash your brushes. You need to know about the tools you’re using, what the best brush is for you, the quality, what kind of paints you want, what mixes with what. The learning experience of that, I love. You have to take risks because once the colors are in they can just kind of mash. It can go so wrong.
KH Who are some of your influences?
TL I always seem to forget someone! I love John Currin.I love artists who have the skills of really old-fashioned painters, but use it in their own way and in a present context. I like Alice Neel a lot. She’s a great raw portrait artist. It’s so nice to see an artist who is celebrated for that – just portraits. They’re done in her own way. I love Edward Hopper for the sense of space and loneliness, his stories and his observance. I love Lucian Freud for the way he captures the human spirit and how he uses beauty and darkness. I love Francis Bacon just because it’s so raw and original. You can see that it comes from the depths of his soul. I love learning about artists that I admire. I love Klimt because it’s unbelievable what he could create in that time. It was a different time and his imagination was next-level.
KH Were there any portraits in the show that you feel repre- sented you the best?
TL Bits and pieces. It’s funny, with the paintings, it’s always like a short romance. You have these intense few days of com- mitting completely to this work and becoming absorbed by it. When you’re done, you just move on to the next. You can go back to it, but your relationship to your own paintings – I find – definitely changes. And that’s what pushes me forward.
KH Have you seen any shows that you’ve seen lately that you’ve found inspiring?
TL If I need to feel inspired, I’ll go to the Met. The range there is insane. I love looking at paintings that are incredibly painted. The more I paint, the more paintings have depth to them. I like the Neue Galerie as well. I like the Egon Schiele show because for his time, the stuff he was doing was so perverted. It’s nice to see a show when you can really learn about the life of the artist. That’s what I appreciate more, learning the story of the artist. What was their path? It’s really nice. And it’s out of respect, to be honest. How are you not interested in it? If there’s an explanation, it’s so much more interesting: who is that person?