Maker's Mark: Lani Irwin

Perhaps I am using inanimate objects as simulacra...


Perhaps I am using inanimate objects as simulacra…

Maker’s Mark

Lani Irwin
© 2016 & Richard Benari

Cover: Lani Irwin, Carnival III Borrowed Space, 2004,(detail). © Lani Irwin. Courtesy the artist.

I do not find it easy to write because each time I set words to paper, there seem to be so many contradictions in what I have said that I question their authenticity. It is not that I believe myself to be dishonest or even inarticulate, but rather that there seems to be no single truth but many truths when talking about oneself or one’s work. The layer upon layer of ideas, feelings, thoughts intertwine with such ferocity that any single truth seems to elude discovery. In the end I paint what I paint because that is what comes out when I work, regardless of any battling ideas or intentions. There seems no alternative. At times I want to scream or cry through the paintings but it eventually settles into a kind of disquieting tension that reveals little of the struggle inherent in both the actual painting of the image or the search for image itself. I know that I am too slow to be able to finish a painting when emotions are fresh, if indeed I start a painting with something specific in mind.

© Lani Irwin
Lani Irwin, Orange Moon, 2008, oil on linen, 39 x 28 in. © Lani Irwin. Courtesy of the artist.

What makes art interesting and sometimes great is seeing the world through the eyes and heart of another, feeling things we might not otherwise have felt. And I use the word “feel” instead of “understand” because I think often we don’t really understand. It is more like the feeling of falling in love, that rush of something incomprehensible but wonderful. Not always pleasant but certainly worth experiencing. An artist is a person who is willing to spend much of his or her life out on the edge, never really comfortable because there are no rules about making art that really help. Even after years and years of painting, each time I face an empty canvas, it is as if I have no idea of how or what to paint. We struggle our whole lives against our limitations in this ongoing battle of selves.

Perhaps I am using inanimate objects as simulacra to convey more complex and indefinable relationships and emotions.

As a child, I was most involved in pretending, a kind of quiet imaginary world, inventing relationships and dialogues. I don’t remember being very playful or whimsical, but rather serious. Sometimes I think that my choice of toys and costumes, carnival atmospheres in my paintings is my way of inventing a world of play. But at other times I don’t see it as playful at all. Perhaps I am using inanimate objects as simulacra to convey more complex and indefinable relationships and emotions. The objects in the paintings are from observation whereas the figures are not.

I am drawn to certain kinds of objects, often objects that to others might seem even sinister. It is not that I don’t consider meaning. I don’t think most of the toys or objects that enter my world have specific meanings that could be defined or described by most people. But somewhere in my own lexicon, they do have meaning. However, meaning is not an absolute. I remember visiting a poet friend many years ago and finding a very large toad in her garden. It had the most extraordinary golden eyes and it was the largest toad I had ever seen. I picked it up and took it into her house to show her this marvelous creature conjuring up fairy tales or magical totems. She was afraid of it and found it ugly. This was a clear example to me of how difficult it is to attach a specific meaning to any particular object. If she were to put a toad in one of her poems, it would have a different connotation for her than for me. I try to be true to myself yet knowing others will see my world differently than I see it. It is the creation of relationships that are personal and can be responded to without fear of a misreading because there are no specific rules or boundaries by which a viewer must abide.

© Lani Irwin
Lani Irwin, Carnival IV or Two Instances of an Unchanged Moon,, 2004, oil on linen, 63 x 39 ½ in. © Lani Irwin. Courtesy of the artist.

I think whenever there is imagery, particularly figures, there is an implied narrative. In my work, it is not a specific narrative that I define, that I specify, because I am not illustrating stories. It is more that the stories, the narratives reside within me and the paintings are visual manifestations of that inner world. I am interested in ambiguity, in the magic and mystery that is such a vital part of the human condition. And because it is personal, that personal “narrative” is then open to reinterpretation by the viewer based on his or her own perceptions and life experiences.

Lani Irwin lives and paints in Assisi, Italy.

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