Lianne Gough: Interview with a Portrait Artist

Geelong artist, Lianne Gough, is best known for her uncanny ability to capture the character of her subjects in her portrait paintings and she is currently exhibiting her recent works at the Wintergarden Gallery. In this interview Lianne talks about her artistic practice and her lifelong love of painting.

Lianne Gough_self_portrait_2008
Lianne Gough, Self portrait, 2008. Image courtesy the artist.

How long have you been making art?
Just about my whole life. As a child I spent my time making drawing and imagining. I loved drawing as a teenager and was encouraged to continue drawing because others recognized my ability. I didn’t start painting until I was at art school. In those days they didn’t teach us how to paint, we learned that after school. They taught us how to think as artists. I didn’t necessarily appreciate that at the time but I do now – it has helped me progress as a painter. When people ask me how long it took to do a piece of work, I’m tempted to say “57 years, 3 months, 4 days and 2 hours” because I think it’s the accumulation of everything in my life that has made me the painter I am.

Lianne Gough, Edd.  Image courtesy the artist.

What can you tell us about your processes for making art?
I take a lot of photos of people I know, or don’t know, from the car, off the tv. Then I digitally manipulate them into an image or images that I think I can use. Manipulations include cropping, contrast, colour, texture, distortion, merging, an endless variety. I have a computer screen I can draw on so I often use that too. The images are printed and then I think about them, change my idea, combine them, discard them. By the time I start a painting I’m fairly confident and able to work quickly concentrating on how I’m putting paint on the canvas or board. The process is similar for a commission portrait except if possible, I like to have a sitting before taking photos. This allows me to get a sense of who I’m painting.

Lianne Gough, Dwayne. Image courtesy the artist.

Why is oil paint your preferred medium?
I’m a painter. I love to have a brush in my hand. I love to paint in oils. Their texture, sheen, depth and maneuverability inspires me. I love to play with paint, to apply it differently, to experiment with mediums and materials. But I’m an oil painter who paints in 2d surfaces.

How would you describe your work?
I’m working towards being an abstract painter. As my ability to express myself in visual language improves, my work becomes less realistic. It’s sometimes narrative.

Lianne Gough, Phillip.  Image courtesy the artist.

All artists experience challenges in their practice. Can you tell us about any you have had?
The biggest challenge for me is always to earn an income as a portrait artist without losing my integrity and sight of my personal aims.

Does your work have any messages?
My work reflects anything and anyone around me. It has more social content than political, but that might change. I can only paint what’s happening around me now. I don’t know what that will be in five years time.

You are well known for your portrait paintings. Why are portrait paintings still relevant in this age of photography?
I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because we like to see that thing are hand made? Or because painting tends to be more expressive, artists change the image to tell the story.

Lianne_Gough_commissioned portrait
Lianne Gough, commissioned portrait.  Image courtesy the artist.

Are you still teaching oil painting at the Geelong Art Society?
I am. I no longer teach the kids. I have three adult classes on Monday and Tuesday.

You recently did a road trip. Did you do any painting while away?
We didn’t stop long enough to paint. When we stopped at night we needed to make camp before dark. I took stuff but didn’t once take it out. Took lots of photos though. I did do a painting of Lake Ballard when I got back. But it was rejected for this current exhibition.

Lianne Gough, Wozza. Image courtesy the artist.

What are you currently working on?
After the death of my father and an illness early this year I have struggled to find something I wanted to paint. I found myself drawn to my nearly 2 year old granddaughter. I didn’t want to paint portraits of her but more a child’s perspective on life through feelings. I’m about to embark on a painting of my father, a very personal subject, and some purely decorative works at the other end of the scale.

What does art do for you, i.e. how important is it to you?
Painting is who I am. I’m not a great mind or good cook, or happy housewife, but I can paint a bit and want to get better. It’s the only thing I have any ambition for.

Has there been a highlight in your art career?
It was pretty exciting to win the Gallipoli Prize, but the completion of every painting is a highlight for me.

Lianne Gough, Glorus Fallen. Winner of the Gallipoli Prize, 2007. Image courtesy the artist.

Have you ever made an artistic pilgrimage? If so, where did you go and why?
I’ve been several times to see the Archie hanging at the gallery of NSW. Does that count? I like to see the exhibition in situ and context because it makes me feel part of it. I understand it better. I love the way there are great pictures next to straight pictures next to cartoons – something for everyone. Paintings represent so many different ways of seeing. Sometimes I think I might one day have a chance of being hung, other times I feel totally frustrated by the constancy of some artists hung year after year. But it’s always interesting and inspiring.

Why do you think the Archibald Prize is so popular?
Because there’s something for everyone – something to like, something to hate, therefore something to talk about.

Did you have an inspirational teacher and how did that shape the course of your work?
My high school year 12 art teacher who persevered with this lazy foolish teenager, for which I’ll always be grateful. Rodick Carmichael, Arch Cuthbertson and Peter Stitt from the Gordon left an indelible impression. More recently Jill Shalless and Max Wilkes. My students inspire me to think and explore more.

Lianne Gough, Whyalla. Finalist in the Whyalla Prize.  Image courtesy the artist.

If you could have any piece of artwork in your personal collection, what would it be and why?
Picasso’s Guernica,  a print of which hung outside the principals office. I saw it frequently. When I was at MoMA in NY and suddenly came across the original, I was moved to tears. From a cheap, indecipherable, minute piece of paper to an awesome, allegorical art work. But then I would never take it from Spain…

Are there any artists who have been a particular inspiration to you?
Picasso, besides Guernica, his portraits early and late, realistic and abstract.

Lianne Gough, Kezza. Image courtesy the artist.

Have you had an art education?
I have a Dip. Fine Art, Gordon Institute, 1976 and Post Graduate Semester at New York Studio School, N.Y., 1977.

Lianne Gough’s exhibition of recent works is on at art@wintergarden, 51 McKillop St, Geelong. For more information phone 0418347619. Lianne will be at the Wintergarden working in the studio/gallery from 17–25 August.


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