Interview with Lani Irwin
Excerpt from interview with Lani Irwin, one of our earliest members.
Larry Groff: What was school like for you?
Lani Irwin: I envy so many painters who have had interesting or even extraordinary experiences with teachers who became mentors. When I think back to my classes, there was little that I can remember of any note, no epiphanies, few revelations about how to paint or who I might be as a painter. I spent many hours in studio classes but I was often unable to relate with enthusiasm to the set-ups or the models or to what was being said to me. However, in my last year of graduate school the fall of 1972. Alan Feltus, newly hired to teach undergraduates, invited some of the graduate students to see his paintings when they arrived from Rome, where he had been the two years previous on a Rome Prize Fellowship (Prix de Rome). The paintings Alan had developed over those two years were for me a rare and impressive merging of the contemporary with the classic. His paintings were personal and individual, quiet but intensely expressive, yet in no way hyped by the need to do something new. In the end, once I had finished all my courses, I realised that it was time for me to find my own way, teach myself how to paint. So I put a seagull skull on a box and began working alone from observation. I suppose more than to teach myself how to paint, it was to discover what was important to me in painting and to find my own voice in order to understand what and how to paint.
LG: Was figurative painting something you got into early?
Lani Irwin: I have always been interested in figurative painting. Non-objective painting has never really appealed to me, seeming to leave out so much of what is essential and powerful in painting.
LG: How much of an idea do you need before you start the painting or does it evolve in the process of working?
Lani Irwin: When you ask how much of an idea do I need, I could say it would be wonderful to actually have an idea when I start a painting. What I usually have is more like the ghosts of a dream after I wake up, that fleeting image that I can't quite grasp, even when I try to write it down or draw it. So I start with the ghost and from there it does evolve, though not without many stops and starts.