TALI LENNOX’S GOTHIC-EROTIC AESTHETIC CAPTURES THE MYSTERIOUS UNDERBELLY OF GOTHAM CITY.
ALEPH MOLINARI — You’re from London, and you’ve been here for 10 years now. What first drew you to New York?
TALI LENNOX — I feel like everyone has different geo graphical vortexes that pull them in at different times in their lives. I find it in islands specifically, but especially in New York — it is an island, and it has a magnetic energy in the stone that it’s built on. When I came here as a teen ager, I knew nobody. And I wasn’t going out — I was too young to go to bars, but I had the most wonderful time. Absorbing the electricity of the city. I’m also quite compulsive and intuitive, and the mixture of the two leads me to make drastic decisions. So, I decided to move here, and somewhat naively I really didn’t have a plan at all. I began oil painting in my tiny apartment when I was 18, and my path began to unfold.
ALEPH MOLINARI — And do you feel that living in New York changed the way you paint?
TALI LENNOX — Painting is quite solitary. I spend so much time by myself — I really lean into internal wonder. And the magic of New York is humans and humanity, which is wonderful, too, because I can work all day by myself and then walk home and have a two minute conversation with the guy at the deli. Those are my favorite interactions in New York — these small moments with strangers, passing glimmers of kindness. But what I’m looking for in life is more silence and more history. But my ver sion of New York has also changed because I’ve spent so much time in the countryside in Upstate New York, which is the perfect anti dote to the city because it’s so dense with nature, animals, and silence.
ALEPH MOLINARI — It’s where you can focus on your practice.
TALI LENNOX — Exactly. So, if anything, for me, New York, Manhattan, is a wonderful test in a way. I’m quite proud that I’ve quietly been working on my craft for the past 10 years, and New York is a place that can really inflame people’s insecurities. It can make people want too much to be something. I’ve really tried to maintain sincerity in my practice, and not lose track of keeping my personal and artistic space sacred. And that’s a challenge. But if you can be not too bent by exterior influence, then it makes your practice more protected.
ALEPH MOLINARI — Complete ly. And is New York still an inspiration for you?
TALI LENNOX — Not so much. I feel like I have to find my treasures and go to the magic. New York is not a place that protects the past. It’s very much about the new, and my work is very nostalgic and mystical. New York is fast and definitely not the most centered city. It’s quite a bipolar city, which definitely heightens your emotions, and New York is a place where anything you’re feeling, you will feel double. But you’ve got to find the magic. For me, that comes down to simple things like spending time with eccentric old school New Yorkers, or with a communion of colorful outsiders. In those moments, I realize that I connect with people and that I feel deeply here. It’s about having insight and creating a personal tapestry of the things that give me my version of enchantment. That can be going to a wonderful old diner, a hole in the wall that no one knows about, or go ing to the Russian banyas. Or visiting antique sellers. There’s a woman called Alyssa, who has a tiny store on the lower level of an antique building, with the best collection of vintage lingerie in the world. When I go to see her, it fills me with magic.
ALEPH MOLINARI — Since I befriended you, I’ve gotten to know a community of characters that you also paint. They’re all fascinating characters, from Betony to Eline to Elliot…
TALI LENNOX — Yes, almost all the girls whom I’m close with are girls I got to know by painting them. Again, it’s about creating the tapestry that you want in life in a deep way. Really remembering to go toward or welcome in the people who you deeply bond with. The people with whom, when you leave them, you feel elevated. And yes, it’s true, bit by bit, over many years, you start to have a spiderweb of wondrous, un usual characters and survivors. My friends here have to work really hard to exist in New York. It’s not an easy place for every one. A lot of people are either really privileged, or they have to fight. This is not like everywhere else in America. A lot of my friends have to really hustle to be here because this is the one place where they can feel they belong while being kind of an outsider. So, you know, you find your kind oddities. Because it’s all about kindness as well, for me, in New York now.
ALEPH MOLINARI — I completely agree. Your paintings are full of meta physical and Surrealist references. Do your influences change over time?
TALI LENNOX — It’s hard to place because I try not to analyze my ideas. What’s best is when influences and ideas drop in. For me, it’s often very environmental. I mean, not in nature, more in places and vessels and things that psychologically house a history, a story, or a ghost. It can be old, abandoned houses with peeling wallpaper that I’ve gone to upstate, where you see layers of history in the walls. Or I got so inspired when I went to Florence recently because they’ve got these amazing churches. What I was interested in was the confessionals because a confessional is an incredible psychological symbol of deep human traits and flaws. The idea of confession, of ridding oneself of sin, of shame, and the pursuit of healing as well, the pursuit of control and manipulation… But for me, it’s often find ing old pieces of history. It’s like finding treasures.
ALEPH MOLINARI — And your influences are quite gothic.
TALI LENNOX — Yes, I’ve al ways been really morbid. My mom laughs about it be cause I’ve had a fascination with mortality and the past since I was a child. I’ve realized that a lot of my work is about the meet ing of death and mortality, death and eros.
ALEPH MOLINARI — Eros and Thanatos.
TALI LENNOX — Exactly. It’s being fascinated by an illusion, by a ghost, remnants, treasure, faded glory. It’s really important, as an artist especially, to keep your eyes open to curiosity, knowledge, and magic, and then you see Surrealism everywhere. I love the extraordinary ordinary, which is really what magic is. If you keep your eyes open, you can find the entrails of magic everywhere. I’ve spent long periods of time alone; that also heightens moments that feel so euphorically otherworldly. Last year, I was really into Alan Moore and William Blake, who both were writers of transcendence.
ALEPH MOLINARI — And transcendence clearly figures into your paintings. All the characters seem to be in a moment of transformation, a state of flux between two worlds. The physical world…
TALI LENNOX — And the mystical world. Or it can be the vessels that we want to hold in the desire for enlightenment or divinity. That’s why I paint a lot of Virgin Marys.
ALEPH MOLINARI — But as you said, you have to believe in it to see it.
TALI LENNOX — Exactly. But New York is an interesting place for that. It’s quite a bipolar city. So, you might have a moment in New York when you feel like it’s corporate, and then you take a walk home and see an amazing classical orchestra playing in Washington Square Park. For me, the magic of New York is really the minutia of intricate happenstances.
ALEPH MOLINARI — And that’s still happening, even though people say that New York is dead, that it’s so expensive?
TALI LENNOX — No, you can find the magic. You just have to keep your eyes extra open, and that also makes it more fun. You re ally search for it. But that’s also the test of be ing an artist — you have to protect your wonder. And that’s a great lifeline to live by.
ALEPH MOLINARI — And who are these women that you paint? They seem to have supernatural powers, like women of divination.
TALI LENNOX — Yes. I don’t paint myself much, but when I paint other women, really they are reflections of internal facets of myself. I think I exist very much in other realms internally. I’ve had quite a few experiences in my life that have been quite transcendent and mystical. It’s really hard to put into words because it’s just so layered with psychology.
ALEPH MOLINARI — So, in a sense, they are versions of yourself that have gone through these moments of transformation and that, in many ways, represent the ritual.
TALI LENNOX — It is about ritual.
ALEPH MOLINARI — And painting is also a ritual. I guess it’s a way for you to re connect with these moments of transcendence you’ve experienced.
TALI LENNOX — Yes, exactly. Hard ones and good ones. That’s the whole point. Many times in my life, I’ve leaned toward intensely accessing the source of what holds our current experience. So, when I’ve gone through grief, I’ve formulated rituals around the experience that I’m going through with the person who’s passed. It’s looking into the eye of life. And that can be scary at first, but it can be beautiful, it can be elevating. In a way, the works are quite sexual, too. It’s like they say in French: orgasm is la petite mort — a little death. It’s the states that we get to that are so potent they crack open our being. That, to me, is the most fascinating vortex to embody. It’s what William Blake would call Beulah. It was a place he described as this in between, temporary state. He described it almost as a feeling you have after sex, and it’s the realm that you can exist in, which is about art, pleasure, euphoria.
ALEPH MOLINARI — Or like Coleridge’s Xanadu.
TALI LENNOX — Yes, a place to access states of transcendence, the path often requires suffering. A deep catharsis, shedding skins. I always like to look at the symbol of a serpent shed ding its skin. Accessing an element of truth is like someone giving you searing hot, rusted keys that no one wants to hold. Once you hold the keys, keep them in your hand, even if they burn your skin — the longer you can hold them, the more they unlock.
ALEPH MOLINARI— And what are you working on right now?
TALI LENNOX — I’m really excited about a series of paintings of anatomical Venuses where all the organs are laid around the bodies. Clemente Susini in Florence created waxworks that were supposed to be sleep ing beauties, with different waxwork organs inside. The Venuses occupy this inter section between the corporal and the transcendent. In a way, it’s one’s denial of nature. To me, they repesent mortality and eros. What I always want to do for people viewing my work is to enliven one’s sense of curiosity, seduction, shame, and revulsion. But it is also about leaning into truth, going to where existence begins, which is within, and also the miraculous de sign of the human body. It’s about hitting that fine line between states. Perhaps people might find them too grotesque. But when I show them, people are so attract ed to them — it’s almost like looking at a jewelry box or a coral reef. They’re glossed over; they’re embroidered entrails of what everyone’s body envelopes. To me it’s about how to get under the surface. How can you go deep, to the vessels that hold our life force?
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