It all started with a trip to Europe a few years after Dani McKenzie finished high school. Naturally, she spent a lot of time exploring museums and galleries, and fell in love with painting, after being particularly inspired by contemporary painter Michaël Borremans.
‘I bought a book of his early work, and when I returned from my trip, I spent six months in my bedroom attempting to teach myself how to paint,’ Dani says. The following year she started at the National Art School in Sydney. By her fourth year, she began making paintings based on old family photographs, looking into notions of time and memory.
‘Although my current work is quite different, that is where it started,’ she adds.
But painting only became Dani’s full-time job a few years ago – a silver lining that came about during the pandemic. She lost her job working at the Melbourne terminal for the Spirit of Tasmania when she decided to embrace the change and ‘dive into painting’.
‘There wasn’t much to do while we were in lockdown, so I started walking a lot. I thought I knew my suburb fairly well before the pandemic, but time and repetition can be very revealing. I would return to the same places day after day, and I began to recognise people and their comings and goings.’
It gave her a new perspective. Armed with a camera, she started translating these moments from the urban landscape, into paintings that are easily mistaken for photographs, thanks to their astonishing level of detail. Perhaps it’s because her current inspirations are in fact photographers, including Gail Albert-Halaban, Michael Wolf and Philip-Lorca diCorcia who Dani says have ‘each explored aspects of voyeurism and everyday life in the city’.
‘I start by scouting a location, and taking photographs. Sometimes, I will return to a particular place more than once to photograph it. Other times, as in the case of domestic interior scenes, I will stage scenarios using models’ the artist explains. ‘Once I have enough images, I use photoshop to collage a composition for painting.’
Then, from her studio in Brunswick, Dani creates these enchanting compositions using a mix of acrylic and oil paint. They serve as a beautiful sort of time capsule – sometimes literally looking into a window frozen in time. And with ambient details like the warm glow of a light left on at dusk, or the romantic facade of a heritage home, you can’t help but be drawn into her curious inner-worlds.
See Dani McKenzie’s latest work in group exhibition, Romancing the Streetscape – on now until April 15 at the Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn.