Interview: Nature & Wildlife Minna Leunig
The Melbourne talent captures Australia]'s beauty with her unique minimalist palette
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The art of Minna Leunig looks like the ancient cave paintings of a flourishing tribal world – a surrealist one where nature and humans cohabit-ate, all in harmony.

Raised in the beautiful North-East of Victoria, Minna gained attention for her works and style as she moved to Australia’s creative capital, Melbourne. Developing a profound love and significant appreciation for nature since childhood, Minna has been able to maintain and infuse this personal passion into her work. Using her signature tools of the trade, Minna depicts abstract animals, alien plants, and fantastical-inspired creatures across minimalist landscapes.

In the last five years Minna has been involved in numerous group and solo shows across Melbourne, and around Australia. Recently she completed her Q Bank residency in Queenstown, Tasmania, and held her latest solo exhibition “Another World”.

We caught up with Minna to talk about her upbringing, the evolution of her style and her work for the super-group show “Terra Oztralis”.

Being raised in a creatively free environment, do you have a specific memory from your childhood that still resonates with you today when making art?

When I think of childhood, I think of nature: the rolling hills of dry sclerophyll bushland that backed onto our family property, meandering creeks lined with tree ferns, open paddocks full of sheep and cows and the deep waterholes we’d swim in. The summers were hot and dry and turned everything golden – snakes would appear on the veranda and the sound of cicadas chirping became our summer anthem. The winters were cold and misty: the horses grew thick wooly coats, dams froze over and occasionally we’d wake up to snow. In those days my dogs and horses were my best friends, and I was highly aware of the native animals that existed all around us: kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, koalas, snakes, echidnas and birds of all shapes and sizes. My brother and I were both homeschooled and had a lot of freedom to explore the bush without adult supervision or interference, which I’m so grateful for. Looking back, it was an unusual childhood, though I didn’t realise it at the time. But it’s clear now that my art stems largely from these early experiences with animals and the natural world. These are the memories that still resonate with me while making art today.

Your work often depicts abstract scenes of floras, faunas and playful characters. Where do you draw inspiration from?

A lot of it comes from my childhood and teenage years growing up in the country, but I’m still constantly inspired by the natural world now as an adult. I feel as though every new landscape I encounter affects and inspires the way I paint. I spent a decent amount of time in Lockhart River (Cape York) in the mid 2000’s. The landscape there is so different – long beaches and rivers full of salt water crocodiles, tangled mangroves and thick scrubby bushland full of termite mounds and wild horses. The strength and vitality of that landscape and those creatures had a profound affect on me and still inspires my image making today. I’m forever in awe of animals – both native and non native. Animals are so raw and honest and beautiful. They’re also very funny. 

 Characterised by contrasts between bold black lines and shapes against matte white backgrounds, what made you decide to pursue your signature minimalist style?

It was never a conscious decision, but something that came naturally and evolved over time. I’ve always let creative developments occur in this way and work from an intuitive level rather than striving for ‘a signature style’. I just let my hand do what it wants and don’t push myself to evolve faster than what feels natural. Art inevitably evolves over time without you even needing to think about it. It just happens. When I look back at my work from a year ago, I’m amazed at how much it’s changed! But that change occurred naturally and little by little, I didn’t push myself to get to where I am now.

 How do you find the transitioning between smaller illustrative work and murals? Did the decision to become a multi-disciplinary artist have any effect on your artistic aesthetics or something that developed naturally?

Again, I didn’t make a conscious decision to become a multi-disciplinary artist. I’ve always tended to pursue whatever I’m interested in, whether that be drawing, painting, working with clay, film or woodwork. Painting murals was just another thing I had the urge to try one day – I was curious to see how my work would translate to a larger scale. The first piece I did was on a friends laneway wall in North Carlton. I enjoyed the process and the experience of being outside, working physically, and observing how the creatures I painted came to life in a completely different way. I think painting murals has definitely affected my image making – with large scale works I need to relinquish some control and adopt a looser, freer hand to meet deadlines, which can lead to unexpected developments. Happy surprises!

As one of the participating artist in the upcoming super group show “Terra Oztralis”, you were asked to depict an Australia untouched by global interference. What can people expect from you? What does it mean to you to be exhibiting with such a plethora of Aussie talents?

It means a lot to be included in such an incredible line up of local artists, so many of whom I genuinely admire! As for what to expect – I’ve never been so good at following themes, so I guess my piece is a loose interpretation of this one! But I’ve just recently started working on canvas instead of paper which I’m excited about. I’m enjoying the textures I’m able to get with structured paint as opposed to ink. It’s really changed the look and feel of my work. 

In the past you have spoken about the idea of eventually returning to nature. Where is your dream destination to settle down in? Why is that important to you?

I’m not ready to settle down any time soon – I still feel a strong desire to travel and explore. But I can see myself eventually returning to my home country in North-East Victoria. There are definitely more spectacular parts of the world – there are endless dreamy destinations that one could choose to settle down in. But at the end of the day, for me it’s not a matter of picking and choosing. I’m bonded to the Strathbogie ranges in a way that I’m not anywhere else – I’m connected to those trees, those creatures, those land forms. It’s home.

 Do you have any advice you wish you were given at the beginning of your artistic career?

Although I’ve been painting for as long as I can remember, it’s only now that I’m really beginning to take this seriously and view being an artist as a legitimate career. For a long time I felt it wasn’t possible, and up until recently I was studying sociology/gender studies and working in environmental conservation (although I didn’t feel like there was a long term future for me in either of those areas when it came to work). Art is consistently the only thing I want to do – I have vast amounts of energy for it. But I still honestly feel like I’m only at the very beginning of my artistic career – I’m still just figuring it all out. What I’ve learnt so far: you need to be very hardworking and self disciplined. You can’t wait for inspiration to strike, you just need to make a start. Sometimes it’s best to act first and think later (if I think too hard my anxiety starts to kick in – just say yes and do the thing, you’ll figure it out along the way). Always trust your gut instinct. 

 

Check out more info on Minna here, follow her @minnaleunig

You can catch Minna’s work in the upcoming super group show Terra Oztralis at Outre Gallery (249-251 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne). He will be exhibiting alongside a bevy of Australia’s most diverse and talented artists. The show runs until the 16/10/2018. 

October 9, 2018
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