Focus on Latisha Reihill - Interview

Curator Francesca Biondi interviews the artist about her work and her solo exhibition ‘Ways of Seeing’ at Gallery 545.

An emerging artist, Latisha Reihill has already obtained several recognitions for her work. Her paintings were awarded by and exhibited at several galleries in Northern Ireland and bought for the Ulster University’s public collection. Reihill has focused her work mainly around the materiality of surfaces and as well as colours, often times looking at architecture and landscape, the memories they hold, and the changes of their surfaces and colours over time.

Can you introduce yourself and your practice?

I live and work in Belfast, but I am originally from County Fermanagh.  I studied contemporary art practice at the Edinburgh College focusing on conceptual art. After my graduation, I felt a pull back to painting, which was my passion during my childhood and teenage years. I therefore went to study fine art at the University of Ulster in Belfast, and I haven’t stopped painting since then.

I like to think of my paintings as stories, each piece has a name, a story, and a history behind it. Although I use canvases, I don’t particularly enjoy a flat surface. I’ve always been drawn to texture, applying and taking away layers of paint, as it creates a more interesting surface for me.

Tilted (2020), acrylic paint and other media on canvas, 140 x 100 cm

Tell us more about your work

My memories of landscapes, buildings and the stories I associate with them are the source of inspiration for my work. When I paint, I recollect those landscapes and buildings which had a particular significance in my life. I remember the moments I spent in these places, what I saw, what happened there, the people I was with, how I felt. These memories inspire the colours, shapes, textures and moods of my works.

My approach to painting has been shaped by my studies and the influence of abstract art. I studied contemporary art practice in Edinburgh, focusing on installation art, video-based work as well as more conceptual performance pieces. I found it daunting at first, but it led to the way I have been working since then, experimenting with mediums and being able to force myself into an uncomfortable situation without being afraid to push the work in different directions. At the Ulster University I moved to painting, a more traditional medium, yet I continued to experiment, this time pushing the boundaries of the materiality of paint. I also told myself daily in the studio, and still do, to work without fear, to not become too precious and allow a painting to come to life freely.

Broken Waters (2020), acrylic paint and other media on canvas 130 x 90 cm

What drew you to abstract art?                                                                         

I think I was drawn to abstract art from studying contemporary art. American abstract expressionism especially fascinated me. This post war era of artists creating impulsive raw pieces encouraged a child-like enthusiasm in my own practice. Rauschenberg in particular was a major influence on the development of my painting processes and qualities, his abstract pieces falling out onto the floor with their sculptural elements crudely attached. I loved how his work pours out from the two dimensional into the three-dimensional, demanding attention. I’ve subtly created textured paintings which tease off the canvas too. These paintings establish a new memory and a place in the world, they sneak off the canvas into the room. They have reconstituted my way of seeing from past to present with their marks on the canvas.

Keep Digging (2020), acrylic paint and other media on canvas, 70 x 70 cm

Your most recent body of work is now featured in your first solo exhibition ‘Ways of Seeing’. For these paintings you continued to experiment with painting and draw inspiration from your memories, how?

I created a series of multi-coloured textured abstract pieces continuing to challenge the limitation of painting and pushing the boundaries of conventional painting techniques and methods. Although abstracted, these works embody years of images, moments of impulsive playfulness and constructed steadiness. They are about stories and histories connected to the landscape and buildings I have been influenced and shaped by when growing up in a rural setting in County Fermanagh. I remembered the greens and blues of the countryside, and the forever changing pops of colours in my home, and the joy and happiness I felt in the creativity around me. Each piece has a story, each line and colour express a moment in history. My stories aim to grow into a new dialogue for the viewers, to enable them to conjure up their own images, feelings and moods. It was incredibly fun reminiscing and making this body of work.

Stirring Leaves (2020), acrylic paint and other media on canvas, 70 x 70 cm

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the stories which inspired the paintings. Do you have a favorite one?

Storytelling has always been a passion of mine, images in books are the first stories we understand as children, we draw before we can write. One of my favorites is the story behind Stirring Leaves. I thought about my sister and I out playing in the field behind our house, where there was an old copper bathtub that the cows would drink out of. We would fill the tub with leaves and stir it with a stick cackling away. This memory is such a powerful one for me, it’s just about play, the movement and the connections we make with nature as children.

What are your future plans?

I will continue to develop more pieces in my studio. I will also work on an exciting documentary project about my practice. I also plan to take part in residencies and other exhibitions which had to be postponed because of lockdown.

'Ways of Seeing' can be viewed online or at Gallery 545, Blick Studios, Belfast until 31 October 2020.

Read more about Latisha Reihill on the artist's page.