Model Turned Artist Tali Lennox Talks Instagram, Portraiture, and Painting

  • Portrait of Tali Lennox, courtesy of Catherine Ahnell Gallery and the artist

If you had walked into Catherine Ahnell Gallery’s space in Soho last week, you would have found a room strewn with paint tubes, drawings, and flowers in Pellegrino bottles—the detritus of a monthlong residency in the space. Towards the back of the gallery, faces lined every wall; some laughing, others deadpan, they depicted men, women, and children. And yet they all seemed to have something familiar about them. That’s no coincidence. Tali Lennox, their creator—a former model and the daughter of pop icon Annie Lennox—sees the works as larger-than-life self-portraits. Each one exposes a different facet of the artist’s personality.

Lennox lived and worked within the gallery space beginning in February. “Layers of Life,” her first-ever solo exhibition, is now on view in the space in which it was developed, and in many ways presents an evolved version of the traditional self-portrait. We spoke with the artist on-site at the gallery-cum-studio space, as she was wrapping up her stay there, to learn about her views on the fragmented self in the digital age, her lifelong connection to art, and the next step for her career.

  • Tali Lennox at the opening of “Layers of Life,” Catherine Ahnell Gallery, 2015. Photo courtesy of Billy Farrell / BFA NYC

Artsy: What led you to artmaking?

Tali Lennox: I left school when I was 17, and was doing modeling full time. Drawing and painting are things that I’ve always done, and have given me a sense of inner peace and focus. So I started painting on my own, and found that the more I did it, the more I needed to do it.

Artsy: You haven’t been formally trained—can you talk about your process and how it has developed?

TL: I work in oils—pencil sometimes, but oil has a lot more depth. I can’t imagine really working with any other medium, although I’m sure at some point I will. I’ll do a sketch on the canvas, and do everything by eye. It takes practice—looking and doing, looking and painting. It’s about being in a flow with your work and losing yourself in it.

I’m basically self-taught—I’ve done a couple of courses to learn about technique. It’s good to want to learn, but I actually like the process of figuring things out on your own. I try to follow my heart with my pieces, to make them as personal as possible. If people like them, that’s great.

  • Tali Lennox at the opening of “Layers of Life,” Catherine Ahnell Gallery, 2015. Photo courtesy of Billy Farrell / BFA NYC

Artsy: What are your influences?

TL: I was just looking last night at a book about Klimt—I look at artists from the past and I find it very humbling. Their craft, their commitment to the work, and to creating things that were beautiful while they didn’t have the tools and means to do it that easily, is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s important to have respect for the past—a lot of art now is focused on just trying to be new all the time—new, new, new. But I don’t know that the new is new anymore.

I love Hopper—love that feeling, the depth. Degas I like a lot too. As far as contemporary artists, I like it when artists use like an older style of painting and modernize and put their own twist on it, like John Currin. Eric Fischl I like a lot too.

  • Tali Lennox working on "Layers of Life" in residence at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, 2015. Photo courtesy of Catherine Ahnell Gallery and the artist

Artsy: What draws you towards portraiture and how are you approaching it in “Layers of Life”?

TL: There’s nothing really more fascinating than people. I love the psyche of portrait painting—it’s so interesting tapping into different emotions. They’re all self-portraits in this show. I’m interested in the alter egos that everyone has and the fragments that get put out on social media. What’s scary to me is that the online world seems to be more real to people nowadays than the offline world. But it’s important to remember it’s not.

It’s about getting honest—what are we pushing under the bed? I sometimes feel aggressive and masculine, sometimes I feel slightly superficial and vain. But, ultimately, I’m not doing self-portraits to be just about me, I’m using my body as the tool to break away those barriers of defining who we are so simply. All people can have a masculine side and a feminine side, or a menacing superficiality.

Of all the pictures I’ve done, the most sincere one is the child—there’s something so pure and intelligent, untouched by social media, which is taking away people’s innocence in a way.

  • Tali Lennox working on "Layers of Life" in residence at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, 2015. Photo courtesy of Catherine Ahnell Gallery and the artist

Artsy: What was it like producing an entire show on-site this past month?

TL: I loved the experience. It’s great lesson to me as well because this is my first show. I feel like when you have to work on this tight deadline, it just accelerates all the lessons you learn, the way you manage yourself. And I love painting so much that it’s not work for me, I just enjoy it.

Artsy: What’s next for you?

I think I would just like to progress. I want to do more than just simple, one-person portraits—bigger canvases, with multiple people, experiment with backgrounds. I have a couple of different ideas for some series that I’d like to do. I’m learning, and I want to get better and better. I think that’s the best attitude to have, because it keeps you on ball and it keeps you moving.

—K. Sundberg

Layers of Life” is on view at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, New York, March 19–April 19, 2015.

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