Q&A with Leanne Grimes

Leanne Grimes Journey to Radiant Earth is on view through Aug. 5 at Blindfold Gallery

Artist Leanne Grimes’ voice brims with exuberance, and so do her paintings. Like watching the world go by through a car window with your glasses off, their colors and forms are ambiguously, merrily dreamlike. Is that a desert plateau, a melting ice cream sundae, or a garish birthday cake toppling over into goo? Sherbet shades of pink, orange, yellow and red punctuate the greys and greens of visible landscapes with mysterious suggestions. We caught up with the recent UW MFA graduate to ask about her current show—and why cats are involved. 

You’re from Philly. How have you liked living in Washington?
I think it’s absolutely beautiful. My work changed a lot from moving out here. I went to a super traditional painting school there, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. So [here] I got to loosen up. I started making sculptures and videos. I was really interested in the landscape out here and it feels like I was able to find my own way of seeing things, as opposed to being taught how to see things.

Your show, Journey to Radiant Earth, is inspired by self-help books.
I’ve been reading stuff for the past six years and I’m finally able to admit how much of a role that plays in my art. So much of the act of creation, you need to have a super clear head, [and] sometimes I don’t. Sometimes you might not have a specific vision but you still have to work, and that can bring about things that aren’t planned. So the funny self-helping thing is a theme that has definitely given me moments of that insane clarity. For once, I’m OK with some of my images being very clear and specific, and some being very ambiguous. I’m trying to let the paintings reflect those different mental states.

I see a lot of images from Southern California when I look at them, but also food and creatures. 
In the past few years, I’ve taken lots of trips on the West Coast, down to California, Oregon, and that’s what always feeds me and provides me the inspiration. Also, I’m the type of person who will walk down the street and go “Oh my God, that flower looks like it has a face in it!” These double visions happen to me all the time. So I’m totally fine with people reading into whatever they want to see. 

What’s the idea behind juxtaposing photos from your childhood beside and within your paintings?
When I moved out here, I didn’t take many things but I took three humongous family photo albums—they took up half my car. I find myself looking at them over and over again, so finally I started putting them next to and in paintings and it made sense. They’re so fitting within these worlds that have been created. There are two photos of my younger brothers, the colors and poses just go with the landscape.

Why are so many of them cats?
I grew up with three brothers in kind of a chaotic environment, which was super fun but everything was always crazy. We had two cats and they both had kittens at the exact same time in a shoebox, as my family was getting photos done in our house. So we had like 25 kittens in our house growing up, and in our photos there are tons of kittens all over in ridiculous situations. The theme of that has played a big part in my life. I interact with these animals really intensely. I never thought I would use these photos as I am, but it just happens that way.