Standing beside a Leah Fraser painting reminds me of the occasional warm night in summer when the weather is warm and the wind is still and for a brief moment, the natural world drowns out your loud thoughts and reaches out to you, pulsating, moving and alive. Leah’s work captures these moments of heightened sensitivity and holds a long pause on them. It’s why, when stood in front of one of her pieces, the bohemian subjects and the worlds they inhabit, resonate on a level that you can’t really intellectualise. They make you feel, rather than speak.
“I like that they remind you of still nights,” says Leah Fraser with a lovely, polite laugh. She’s at home in her studio in Bronte, where she lives with her partner and young daughter. “I like each painting to be a moment in a story that is heightened or pivotal. I let the characters dictate their surrounds, almost always starting with the figure and working outwards.”
When asked, Leah can’t tell you what her work is about. Only that a painting is her way of processing thoughts and feelings. Of dealing with things. Of transferring one thing into another. Evidence of her intuitive approach is particularly apparent in the names they take on: Inside you the time moves. Release the fire out of me. Their touch felt like the birth and death of a thousand tiny universe. All speak to a spiritual fabric that we all – at times – feel inside of us, when it’s not drowned out by noise and thoughts and technology. Ironically, these emotional and impulsive states are best explored through art, dancing, and music. Which is precisely how Leah approaches her practice.
“I do a lot of dancing in the studio. Every painting is physical – like a dance with the piece, stepping away and getting close, moving around it. I often find myself standing on a chair in a weird corner of the studio with my head at an off angle, squinting, almost trying to look and not look, so that you can see what needs to be there.”
Leah began her craft at New South Wales College of Fine Art as a university student, when at 23 she was asked to exhibit at a local artist run space. Mortified, she accepted. Soon after she took up with Arthouse Gallery in Sydney, who still represent her today, as well as artists like Joshua Yeldham, Robyn Sweaney, and Deborah Halpern. “They’ve been very good for me, we work together,” she says. Over a decade, Leah hasn’t been seduced by prevailing trends. Her method creates work that she finds challenging and strange, which means she’s built on her own style rather than making any reactive stylistic shifts.
On the eve of her show launch last year, she was worried that her approach had gone too far. Within You Without You explored a whole new range of themes and established Leah for the style she’s known for around Australian today. It featured beasts of the underworld; snakes and goddesses, mythical creatures and hands grabbing at women’s bodies. “I was scared releasing some of those works. I thought, I’ve really cut loose here, this is some weird shit,” she laughs. “You work for a long time on things and when it all comes out you don’t know how it’s going to be received.”
Jardan and Leah have collaborated on exclusive patterns used in a range of cushions, throws and pillows. View the collection on our online store.