In celebration of Kim Leutwyler’s fourth time being an Archibald Prize finalist, Arts-Matter (a new cultural programming platform founded by Michelle Grey and Susan Armstrong) hosted a spirited conversation about her expansive career and creative process, moderated by Saha Jones from The Art Gallery of NSW. Following the discussion guests played a fun but fiercely competitive game of artist-let Pictionary, where Leutwyler quizzed the audience on their knowledge of LGBTQIA+ lingo and figurative icons.
Born in America, Sydney-based Kim Leutwyler migrated to Australia almost 20 years ago. She works in a variety of media including painting, installation, ceramics, print media and drawing. Leutwyler's current body of work features paintings exploring notions of beauty, gender and queer identity. She has come to focus on painting as a medium because of its primarily masculine history in the western art canon.
For Kim’s 2020 Archibald Painting she chose the subject Brian Firkus, an American singer-songwriter, comedian, author and television personality. Firkus is bestknown for his drag queen persona, Trixie Mattel, and for winning RuPaul’s drag race all stars as Trixie in 2018. ‘Brian is Ojibwe, a Native American person. He had an abusive stepfather who called him a “trixie” when he acted feminine, inspiring his drag name. “Brian has an incredible story,” said Leutwyler, “so I couldn’t resist reaching out for a portrait sitting.”
After the event, Arts-Matter visited Kim in her Redfern-based studio, where she sat down and answered some more in depth questions about her process, how she hopes her work contributes to the community, and the pervasive underrepresentation of LGBTQ in portrait paintings to date.
Arts-Matter: What do you think is the role of an artist is during these difficult times?
Kim Leutwyler: Some artists have the ability to influence society, for better or for worse. I am most interested in those who create thought provoking, stylistically varied works that engage with the politics of identity, community and activism. Only time will disclose the role of artists in changing societal attitudes and contributing to culture.
A-M: Can you talk about representation in the arts and its importance, particularly as it pertains to the LGBTQIA+ community?
KL: Artwork can be enjoyed regardless of gender. It stands on its own. The problem is the limited palette of the audience. If viewers are taught primarily about art by men from a young age and believe that reputation equals talent, then it’s no wonder they are drawn to ‘the greats’ of history and today’s art stars...most of whom are male. Although I enjoy working in a variety of mediums, I have come to focus on painting LGBTQIA+ identified and allied people because we are so underrepresented in the history of portraiture. In historical art, queer people are often erased, or when seen, reduced to tropes as opposed to the individuals they are/were. Queer women have largely been left out altogether. Representation of queer people on the walls of our cultural institutions matters. My hope is that that my work will spark dialogue and action, and help raise the profile of queer people in the arts by amplifying voices and diversifying representation. Let’s honour our trailblazing predecessors by educating others on the accomplishments of our diverse community. We need to support curators who are working to improve gender and racial diversity in exhibits and museum collections, and gallerists who promote artists previously overlooked by a maledominated art world of the past.
“Back in the Bush” by Kim Leutwyler; “Trixie Mattel” by Kim Leutwyler
A-M: What do you have coming up in the pipeline?
KL: A 3 week Augmented Reality and Painting exhibition portraying queer people, including those who are trans, non-binary, drag queens, queer and gender diverse. I look forward to hosting a drawing workshop, inviting the LGBTQI+ and allied Community to sketch one another, giving them agency to change societal attitudes toward the representation of queer people and allies. I will also host a Q&A with several of the sitters, inviting the community to start a dialogue around queer feminist representation in activism and the arts. The exhibition will take place at Nanda/Hobbs Gallery in Sydney, NSW to coincide with Sydney Mardi Gras in February 2021. At first sight, attendees will be greeted with 15 large oil paintings in the gallery. They can then immerse themselves in an augmented reality experience using smartphones or tablets. Imagery will float in the room around the paintings, including video interviews with the portrait sitters, still images of important moments from their lives, time-lapses of the portraits being painted and animations the bring the brushstrokes to life. I have a growing list confirmed ‘sitters’ who each engage with the politics of identity, community and activism in their own unique way.