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Art & Voices Matter: Kim Leutwyler on the articulation of gender and sexual identity

Born in the US, and now based in Sydney, Kim Leutwyler is an artist who creates stunning portraiture exploring the LGBTQ+ community.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jun 14, 2021

Kim Leutwyler is one to embrace the spirit of adventure: she has spent her life travelling; and has, as of 2012, come to live among the breathtaking vistas of Australia. As someone who meant to pursue accounting after high school, it was an impulse decision that brought her to the arts at Arizona State University, and she has never looked back.

Much of her work is focused around interrogating perspectives on physicality and beauty. Leutwyler acknowledges the massive underrepresentation of LGBTQ+ folx in portraiture, and it would seem, will singlehandedly shift the status quo in her lifetime. One need only cursorily engage with her oeuvre to realise that this is a deeply committed practitioner; however, a longer engagement with Leutwyler’s work will reveal a disarming degree of sensitivity and nuance within her framings.

01 min watch A tour of the artist’s studio | Kim Leutwyler | STIRworld
A tour of the artist’s studio Video: Kim Leutwyler

1. Please talk about your general practice.

I create paintings of LGBTQ+ identified and allied people. My work toys with the concepts of glorification, objectification and modification. Throughout the work I push and pull the boundary between realism and abstraction, highlighting the layers and complexity of identity, gender and beauty.

I have recently begun creating augmented reality experiences for my paintings. If you download a phone or tablet to the work, you will see a time-lapse of the painting being created, images and videos made by my sitter, animations or soundscapes. 

Brian | Kim Leutwyler | STIRworld
Brian Image: Kim Leutwyler

2. What are the key concerns that you aspire to address through your work? What prompted you to make this your area of focus?

My paintings are absolutely a celebration of the queer community. LGBTQIA+ identified and allied people are massively underrepresented in the history of portraiture. In historical art, queer people are often erased, or when seen, reduced to tropes as opposed to the individuals they are/were. Queer women have largely been left out altogether. My hope is that my work will spark dialogue and action, and help raise the profile of queer people in the arts by amplifying voices and diversifying representation.

Brooke and Jana | Kim Leutwyler| STIRworld
Brooke and Jana Image: Kim Leutwyler

3. How does art interventions aid the process to voice anxieties of the subaltern and question the normative order? Do you think art helps its audience to think and experience about matters that are otherwise considered of a lesser-importance?

A piece of art inherently glorifies, objectifies and modifies its subject. Art challenges us to view a concept from another perspective while simultaneously interpreting the meaning based on our own life experiences.

Faustina | Kim Leutwyler| STIRworld
Faustina Image: Kim Leutwyler

4. What kind of artistic liberties do you take to reflect (your version of) the reality of the community? 

I paint people who inspire me and have impacted my life in some way. I am constantly exploring the boundary between realism and abstraction to highlight the layers and complexity of identity and place. Allowing abstraction to dominate the composition gives the viewer an opportunity to see themselves in the work, however I do incorporate realism to convey the distinguishing features of my sitters. The colours reflect the taste and personality of my sitter, and the painting process is very collaborative. 

Tay | Kim Leutwyler| STIRworld
Tay Image: Kim Leutwyler

5. How do you involve artistic sensitivity to capture the fragility of the people already relegated to the margins? How do you balance the aspects of sensitivity and solidarity?

I would not describe the people I paint as fragile. They exude strength and diverse perspectives that come from their marginalised experiences. 

Shanna Watson | Kim Leutwyler| STIRworld
Shanna Watson Image: Kim Leutwyler

Queer artists (along with women and artists of colour) are massively underrepresented in the fine art world. I believe that queer artists can start a positive dialogue around equality, gender and identity in both the feminist and mainstream art world, championing people who are often marginalised and sharing one small part of what makes them unique with the world. It is entirely possible for an ally to present queer experiences, but there is something special that emerges from diverse queer perspectives. 

Heyman | Kim Leutwyler| STIRworld
Heyman Image: Kim Leutwyler

6. Lastly, how far have things changed in past years and what do you aspire as an outcome in medium for the long term through your work?

I have experience in sculpture, ceramics, installation and printmaking, but my last 10 years have been dedicated to painting the queer community. I am feeling a strong pull to explore landscapes and our relationship to place as it informs our identities. I am also experimenting with augmented reality and fabric installations to convey different facets of the queer community. Who knows what the future holds for my practice, but I can say with certainty that I am dedicated to art making in the long term. 

Kim Leutwyler | STIRworld
Artist Kim Leutwyler Image: Courtesy of Kim Leutwyler

Art & Voices Matter
Co-curated by Rahul Kumar and Dilpreet Bhullar, Art & Voices Matter is a STIR original series of interviews with global creative practitioners who bring to the core the issues of communities that may be seen at the periphery.

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