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New series: Contained

Updated: Jul 5

Contained can be defined as:

(a)  be controlled or restrained, or

(b) to have or to hold someone or something within.

The first definition implied an external force exerting control, whilst the second interpretation is the expression of an inner force. I think both can exist simultaneously.


In the first instance, within this series of paintings, the constriction of the female form within a confined space represents how women are constrained by societal preconceptions, specifically towards how they should look and behave. These pressures can be subtle but omnipresent and are represented here by the frame of the artwork that encloses the figure within. In this series I am interested in the way the female form is contained within the boundary of frame of the canvas.


Additionally, I’m also interested in the second meaning of contained. Although the figures are confined within an undefined and yet limited environment, the subjects do not appear distraught or concerned. They appear calm and self-possessed, alluding to an inner strength and self-restraint. This is consistent with the second interpretation of the meaning of contained and gives a somewhat uplifting spin on an otherwise dark feminist theme.


The style of work is also a slight departure from previous work. Previous bodies of work often included areas of pattern overlaid on top of each other. By contrast this work is paired back, with a reduced palette and a greater focus on negative space surrounding the figures.


This variation in style was developed after a transformational 2-week artist residency I undertook in the French countryside last year. Not wanting to take my slow-drying oil paints with me, I took only pencils and watercolours. I vowed to paint only what I felt like on the day and not to be tied to a theme or motive. Unsurprisingly I was still drawn to figurative representation as I have always been. But working in these fast-drying mediums on a small scale meant that I worked quickly, often finishing a few works in one day. It was quite freeing and satisfying working at a fast pace, and I started to consider how to bring that free flow to my work back home.


The answer was to move to simpler compositions, smaller canvases and to use mostly acrylic paint. Instead of intricate patterns, I employ free flowing lines that are organic in that they are not measured or premeditated. To do this I have been using Posca pens which contain acrylic paint, which are very easy to use and allow continuous long unbroken lines, without needing to reload a paintbrush.

These lines representing the clothing accentuate the movement within the piece and give it a graphic quality with contrasts with the realism of the skin tones.


The resulting body of work is this series titled |Contained|. It evolved very unconsciously and has received positive feedback which has encouraged me to continue. In the pursuit of continuous growth and learning, I am now experimenting with bolder lines, larger canvases, and bolder colours. I am excited about where this will lead.

About the author

Leah is a Melbourne artist who loves making figurative work about womanhood. Stay in touch by signing up to email updates here or follow her artist journey on social media @leahmarianiartspace.

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