Gemma Leslie has lived a few creative lives before finding her true passion of painting. It was only after seven years of working as an art director and graphic designer for a handful of renowned fashion and lifestyle brands (including búl, Modern Times and Lucy Folk) that the pieces of the puzzle started to come together. She had just left her job in early 2020, and decided to follow her partner’s advice to ‘take some time to rest and paint’.
‘So, I did that, and between April and June I painted every day,’ Gemma says. ‘I found it therapeutic and still do. I had a few people enquire about my work, then commission after commission came and I just decided then, that “this is what I love, I want to paint”, and I’ve not stopped since then.’
Gemma’s works highlight the simple pleasures of life and ‘everyday homescapes’, with a particular focus on food and nature. Given this focus on everyday observations, it’s only natural that Gemma’s recent move from Melbourne to Brisbane amid the pandemic has shaped her new body of work, and first solo exhibition. Her family went on holiday to Queensland in 2021, fell in love with the area, and haven’t looked back!
The 27-piece collection features vibrant and organic depictions of motifs from the sea – whether it’s sweet little shells or produce caught by local fisherman – to fruits and flowers, that tell stories of summer in Queensland.
We chatted with Gemma to learn a little more about the making of Time Up North!
Hey Gemma! How would you describe your aesthetic as a painter?
Such a difficult question, but overall, I think my work has a joyous disposition. When I paint, I’m happy, and what I paint is a big part of that. I simply want that feeling to be recreated in people who gravitate to my works. I’d like to think that wherever my paintings go they bring colour and joy to the space and the people that surround them.
Can you describe your process for us ?
My work is more intuitive than anything else. I am inspired by the nature that surrounds me, both in urban, sea and country settings. I love that throughout different seasons, in different cities, you get different flora. I enjoy the surprise of a pop of colour peeking over a neighbourhood fence and then seeing those trees in full bloom a week or so later. Equally, I enjoy going to the market and seeing the array of fresh food and seafood, and the vibrancy of their natural colours. It’s not uncommon for me to walk through the door after being outside and to go straight to my studio to paint for hours.
What has inspired this latest body of work – ‘Time Up North’?
My partner and I came to Queensland for a holiday in the middle of winter 2021. I was struck by the incredible warmth and sunshine, even in the depths of winter. That warm winter light in Brisbane is something unique to this part of the world and I just started painting what I saw around me, like hibiscus and daisies in the winter. Then as seasons changed, so did the food. In spring, the family-run trawlers in Sandgate that travel up and down the Queensland coast Saturday through to Tuesday arrive back to their moorings, and open on a Wednesday morning at 6am to sell their incredible catch – fish, prawns, crabs – which are all a delight to the senses.
In my paintings, I draw on the colours around me. The light here is different, it’s softer, the sky is bluer, and the clouds are stormy, the native flowers are abundant and vibrant. Everything is brighter, happier.
You’re travelling back down to Melbourne for the show, what are you most looking forward to doing when back in your home town?
There is nothing quite like home. And while the weather is colder and the skies are more grey, Melbourne has this energy which is palpable – particularly when it comes to food, culture and the arts. I’m booking loads of places to eat while we’re back — Anchovy, Gerald’s Bar, City Wine and Scopri are all on the list. As is the NGV, Ian Potter Centre and Heide Museum!
What else are you looking forward to this year?
The exhibition first and foremost! Followed by some local travel — Australia is so beautiful, vast and varied. And more painting.
Time Up North by Gemma Leslie
Opening drinks on Saturday April 30th from 2pm
Saturday April 30th, 10am – 4pm
Sunday May 1st, 11am-3pm
Tuesday May 3rd– Thursday May 5th, 10am-4pm
14 Little Oxford Street