Kim Leutwyler’s paintings are more than just vibrant depictions of her friends. They are an embodiment of a new way of seeing, one that deconstructs traditional gender-based power dynamics and creates space for plural identities and possibilities. Through her use of bold colours and patterns, Leutwyler invites us to examine the ways in which we see and are seen, challenging us to rethink our assumptions about what it means to be beautiful.
At the heart of Leutwyler’s work is an exploration of ‘the gaze,’ a term coined by feminist scholar Laura Mulvey to describe the ways in which the male gaze dominates visual culture. The male gaze objectifies women and reinforces patriarchal power structures, creating a binary between the active male viewer and the passive female object. In her paintings, Leutwyler challenges this binary by presenting her subjects as active agents, in control of their own bodies and their own identities. The patterns and colours they choose become a reflection of their individuality and their agency, rather than simply objects to be viewed and consumed.
By deconstructing ‘the gaze,’ Leutwyler also creates space for plural identities and possibilities. The binary of male and female is replaced by a spectrum of gender identities, with each of her subjects presenting their own unique expression of gender. In doing so, she challenges the notion that gender is a fixed category, instead embracing the fluidity and complexity of identity. This is particularly important for members of the queer community, who have historically been marginalised and excluded from mainstream society. By creating space for plural identities, Leutwyler offers a new way of seeing that is more inclusive and accepting of all people.
Leutwyler believes that incorporating colours and patterns that reflect her sitter, greatly enhance the depth and impact of each portrait. During the initial sketches, she engages in conversation with the sitter, asking about their preferred colours and patterns, which she then translates onto the canvas throughout the painting process. As someone with synesthesia, her relationship with colour is particularly interesting. While most people may associate colours with certain emotions or feelings, for Leutwyler, colours elicit strong physical and emotional reactions. She finds that certain colours, such as a cadmium chartreuse can create a sudden surge of energy upon contact, while some blues cause her to feel itchy. She also finds that contrasting colours seem to move fluidly on the canvas, even though she knows they are static brushstrokes. By incorporating these unique perspectives and experiences into her artistic process, she is able to create portraits that are both visually striking and deeply personal.
Leutwyler’s paintings point to the body as a living topography of Queer life experiences. The body is not simply a passive object to be viewed, but an active site of meaning-making and identity formation. Through her use of abstract mark making, Leutwyler highlights the ways in which the body is constantly in flux, adapting and changing in response to our experiences and desires. This is particularly important for members of the Queer community, whose bodies have historically been pathologized and medicalized. By presenting the body as a living topography, Leutwyler offers a new way of seeing that celebrates the diversity and complexity of Queer life experiences.
Kim Leutwyler’s paintings are more than just beautiful portraits of her friends. They are a reflection of a new way of seeing, one that deconstructs gender-based power dynamics and creates space for plural identities and possibilities. Through her use of bold colours and patterns, Leutwyler challenges us to rethink our assumptions about beauty and gender, while her exploration of ‘the gaze’ and the body as a living topography offers a new way of seeing that is more inclusive and accepting of all people. Kim Leutwyler is an artist who is unafraid to challenge the status quo and push the boundaries of art. She has established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the Australian art scene and beyond, and is an inspiration to artists and art lovers alike. She encourages us all to take risks, try new things, and put ourselves out there. Through her art, Leutwyler is not only creating beautiful images, but also contributing to a more just and equitable society.
Leutwyler bas been a finalist in the Sulman Prize, six times in the Archibald Prize, and a finalist in the Portia Geach Memorial Award. She holds concurrent bachelor degrees in Studio and Art History from Arizona State University, and additionally graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a Painting and Drawing degree. She is represented by Nanda Hobbs Contemporary in Sydney, Australia.
Written by Joey Hespe for Oh Yes Her
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