Meditation, New York and and the desire to paint – In conversation with Laura Courtney

In Artist August 17, 2016

Tell us a bit about your background. What made you interested in art? Who were your early influencers?

I have always had two paths in my life that equally have held my interest, art and the eastern tradition of meditation. After studying fashion for a few years I learned meditation at 22 and was so absorbed by the extant lineage of knowledge and the practice of meditation, that for the next 20 years I lived in ashrams all over the world studying, meditating in large groups and becoming a teacher of meditation.
I knew at some point I had to return to my creative life and at 40 I reluctantly acknowledged that I wanted to be a painter. I did not relish the idea of telling my father I would be going from a penurious devotee to a starving painter, but surprisingly he was thrilled.
Early influencers only really stand out after the a passage of time for me arising from the millions of images of art one looks at. As a child I was obsessed with ancient Egyptian art and the next most profound experience was when I was living in New York at 19 and I saw a retrospective of Balthus. The strange worlds he created in his work made me want to be a painter. When I started painting seriously 8 years ago and I first saw the work of Rick Amor, it was like a signpost saying ‘that way’. And I have to mention Jude Rae who not only strikes me as a lovely person but the finest of painters.


What is it that draws you to the subject of the constructed landscape, both streetscapes and architectural exteriors as seen in your previous exhibitions, and interiors, as seen in your current show?

Probably being the daughter of an architect is behind that. I have been fascinated by architecture from an early age and grew up appreciating what made great architecture and specifically loved the details and finishes whether raw and simple or elegant and fine. In my work though the intrigue for me is more where the natural world and the man-made world meet and mostly compliment each other through the interplay of light and shape.


Why do you choose oil paint as your medium?

I just don’t see how you can achieve the depth and nuance with any other medium. Also if you really stuff something up, you can go back the next day and wipe it all off. I’ve done that a few times.


When you’re not painting, how do you most enjoy spending your days?

I meditate everyday. Apart from riding my bike and an early morning swim in the ocean, I get out into the landscape and just wander and observe. I go to see exhibitions of artists I admire. I go to the State gallery and look at the permanent collection – there is always something i see that totally helps solve a question of technique or humbles and in turn inspires.


Do you work on several paintings at once? What is your usual process for creating a body of work?

I generally have a few works going at once. Especially with a deadline looming it is more time efficient to have works at various stages, so if something needs to be left I can work on something else. I like to get up super early, around 4am and get to work around 6.30am after meditating etc. For me the commitment to a solid 40/50 hour week produces work. Sometimes the work flows freely and sometime you wrestle with it and then I find myself cleaning a cluttered corner of the studio. I’ve learned not to judge that and I have the credo to just stay in the space for the full 8 hours. Having said that once in a while I’ll have a day which is a bit like a prison break out, where I may just paint a picture that comes from a long held image in my mind and it is a one-off, unrelated to anything but is so clear in my mind and it can sometimes lead to a whole body of work.


What is the best advice you have received about living life as an artist?

Just turn up.
Look at your work in reverse in a mirror – you will see so many things that are not working.


Who or what is inspiring you creatively right now?

I was just in New York, so that entire city which has always inspired and energised me. More specifically the exhibition at MOMA by Degas called ‘A Strange New Beauty’. It is an astonishingly beautiful show with many rarely seen monotypes. The volume of work he produced was daunting but it was seeing some of the v rough, blurry monotypes that Degas then drew over in brilliantly coloured oil pastels. To see the progression and evolution of work like that with his free confident hand, was like being let into the temple. That and my enduring obsession with green and violet.


What are you working on now?

I am doing a whole series of works that uses gold leaf which has been a long-held idea I have wanted to explore. It is very different to anything I have done before and it much more free and painterly and more in the direction I want to be as a painter.

To read Laura’s profile and view her current online exhibition please click here


Bahai Temple - Laura Courtney 2016