Kim Leutwyler is a young American artist living in Australia. She works across a number of mediums to create images of LGBTQ-identified women. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to ask her some questions about her work.
You are from the States – where did you grow up?
I wouldn’t say that I’m from any one place in particular. I had lived in five states by the time I was six, and continued to move frequently throughout my life. I spent a majority of my formative years in Arizona, Connecticut and Chicago, Illinois. I’ve never lived anywhere for more than a few years in a row!
When did you move to Australia and why?
I travelled to Australia about 10 years ago while studying abroad at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. While traveling on school holidays I instantly fell in love with Australia’s sweeping landscapes, culture of kindness and the inherent spirit of adventure. After returning to the US to finish my studies I promised myself that I would move back to the South Pacific someday. In late 2012 when the opportunity presented itself through my job I instantly jumped at the chance.
You work across a number of mediums: paint, pencil, installation, print, digital, photography – I am not sure I have ever come across an artist that works across so many different mediums. Do you have a preference?
Ceramics, sculpture, printmaking and textiles have all moonlighted as my favourite medium at one point or another. The main obstacle I faced after university was that I had very little opportunity to use the facilities required to create new work. Ceramics requires a kiln and wheel at the very minimum, lithography requires a slab of stone or aluminium plate, acid, and a giant press! When I found myself in search of a creative outlet I turned to drawing and painting with my roommate in our living room. I quickly realised that I wanted to learn from the very best painters and scholars in the world. After applying to all the top painting schools (Yale, RISD, SVA, etc.), I was fortunate to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve been dedicated solely to painting ever since.
I have read that your work toys with the concept of glorification vs. objectification – can you tell me what you mean by this?
Whether it is the intention of the artist or not, it is my opinion that by nature artwork objectifies its subjects. The female body in particular has been portrayed in a multitude of societal, cultural, scientific and historical contexts that build a sense of glorification, and sometimes eroticism. The ‘ideal’ female anatomy has changed over time, with varying aesthetics that metamorphose based on age, race, geography and time period.
For centuries humans have embraced body modification as a means of expression, rites of passage, religious beliefs and cultural aesthetics. I paint my friends and the people that I care about most, who embrace a small fraction of current cultural aesthetics and modifications. Body art, plastic surgery and piercings are not uncommon among the women you see in my work.
I explore fluidly expanding identities in my travels throughout North America, the European continent, Asia and the South Pacific region and depict certain aspects in my artwork. The bodies of queer-identified women in my paintings are evolving with their social environment. Although it is not my intention to glorify or objectify the women in my paintings, how can one argue the concept when three giant paintings of my partner hang in our living room?
Your recent work includes people from your own life – how do they feel about being subjects?
They love it! It’s always fun to get naked with friends to make some art :)
Your work is fabulously focussed on LGBTQ identified women. How would you define queer culture?
AHHHHH! I don’t know how to answer that succinctly (laughs). All I can say is that I create my paintings in celebration of queer identity and culture. Queer identities have varying aesthetics which metamorphose based on age, race, geography etc. I explore fluidly expanding identities in my travels and express them through art.
Do you think queer culture is adequately represented in art?
In short, no. One of my bachelor degrees is in Art History, so naturally I investigated the history of painting thoroughly. I’m struck by its primarily masculine history in the western art canon. By entering into the modernist painting field I plan to continue to destabilise gender borders just as LGBT artists have been doing since the 70s and earlier.
Was there a time that you remember when you went from doing art to being an artist?
That is a fantastic question, and I have no idea how to answer! I can’t recall when I really felt like I had become an artist? You’ve stumped me :)
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would that be and why?
Robert Rauschenberg, all the way! The first time I saw his painting in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), I was so drawn to it that I sat there staring for 45 minutes. I had never done that in a museum before. Rauschenberg often combined things like taxidermy animals, furniture and painted canvas to make enormous pieces. He also dedicated his millions toward establishing multiple organisations that support causes like world peace, the environment and humanitarian issues. My only regret was not reaching out to him to express how much his work meant to me while he was still alive.
What music are you listening to?
I get super zoned-out when painting, and will often go hours before I realise I’m working in silence. Once the music is finally playing, you’ll find me listening to many different genres. Rock and Swedish electronica dominate my playlists, but I also love pop, punk, indie folk and more. Led Zeppelin is my all-time favourite band. My only rule is no country!
What’s on your agenda for the rest of this year?
Traveling around Australia and participating in art shows! I’ve also done some illustrations for a friend’s children’s book that we are looking to publish at the end of this year.
Check out some of Kim’s amazing work!