Lani Irwin: Figures in Oil

Lani Irwin was born in Annapolis, Maryland. Since 1987, she has lived in Assisi, Italy. Irwin has had one-woman shows at the Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery in New York City, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in Boulder, Colorado, and Gallery K in Washington, DC. In addition, she has taken part in group shows in Milan, Verona, London, Washington, DC, and New York City. Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery represents her work. To see more of Irwin’s paintings and collages, visit her website at

The three stages of Hide and Seek shown here start from a point that I knew the skull was leaving the painting and that it was changing drastically. At the start, there had been a toy Pinocchio in the painting (before photos were taken). Many things had gone in and come out and the spatial elements had been shifting. The painting had started as a simple still life, motivated by the fact that I’d always intended to make a painting using human skulls. I started two paintings simultaneously so that I could follow two slightly different paths. I worked on them both, going back and forth. For awhile I was trying to keep more or less the same elements in the paintings. In the end, that was not possible, as each developed and demanded different solutions.

Early Stage:
The first stage shown above is at a point after many weeks of painting a still life of a skull with various and changing objects. I had come to the conclusion that, for me, the human skull was too heavily laden with its own inherent meaning to allow the painting to move beyond that into its own reality. The last thing I did before deciding to take the skull out altogether was to cover part of it with a card, to see if that could be enough to allow it to be a painting instead of a representation of a skull.

Middle Stage:
One could certainly argue that these are entirely different paintings. For me, however, the days of struggle with the skull were a necessary stage. Each day of painting, each layer of paint, moved me closer to knowing what I wanted to do and necessitated the changes.

Final Stage:
Once the elements in the painting were decided, it was then a matter of finding the colors and painting the forms to take them to another level. I had to select what Tarot cards I would use and paint them, choose the color of the blindfold and paint the red circle on the cheeks and the tinted neck. In the other version, the blindfold came off and objects were added. In one I reduced the space; in the other, I allowed more space.


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