In a time where everything seems to be filtered to perfection, it is a joy to stumble upon art that revels in the messy and mundane. Enter Libby Haines, the Melbourne-based painter who excavates beauty from life’s minutiae and immortalises the ephemeral in her vibrant and colourful still lives.
Perched in front of one of her oil paintings, Haines dials in from her Heidelberg home and studio as she reflects on her career thus far and the trajectory that saw her lurch from student and jewellery maker to a painter whose works now sell out in seconds online.
After graduating from Monash University with a degree in Visual Media and Arts, Haines grew apathetic toward art and resented the “over-intellectualisation” of the craft during her degree. She pivoted towards a career in fashion, where she worked as a production assistant before creating her own jewellery label, Lemon. For six years, Haines learnt the “nitty gritty” nature of how to build a business, but then the pandemic broke, and with two children under two, she felt the urge to go back to the drawing board to escape from the throes of motherhood.
“Around the time we went into the first lockdown, I started painting in secret and something clicked,” she recalls. “I decided to do one big work a week, and I soon became obsessive – I was thinking about painting in my dreams."
"I was spending a lot of time at home, staring at four walls, and painting became a way for me to reinvent reality with my surroundings.”
She adds, “Motherhood can be a push and pull of feelings of love and boredom, but at the end of a long day of tantrums, there’s always the meal I have with my family – painting became a way for me to capture the chaos and joy of those moments."
With her first exhibition in tow, Haines began to work on smaller pieces as practice on days her children were in daycare. This routine stuck, and she continued to paint whatever came to mind but also began to share it on her Instagram. “It was a good way of not overthinking the process, practising and testing out colours,” she explains. “Building up my profile on Instagram wasn’t a deliberate plan; it all happened very organically.”
The aesthetics of tablescaping has seen an improbable rise in recent years, with people taking to social media to snap tables bedecked with lavish spreads, dried flowers, coupe glasses and twisted candles. It’ll therefore come as little surprise that Haines' dinner table paintings – which coruscate with everything from oysters and pasta to Negronis and layered cakes – are total catnip to her 60,000 followers.
It is now a fight to the death to get your hands on one of Haines' paintings (don't worry, she also sells prints). She tells me that once she puts up a painting for sale online, she gets between 30-80 comments, all vying for one of her affordably priced works. “I have to click into the coding to figure out down to the second who got their first”, she remarks.
“With Instagram, you can cut out any middle man, get feedback and have a direct relationship with your audience and nurture that.”
Inspired by the likes of Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko and Brett Whitely, Haines' use of “colour as feeling” is evocative throughout her oeuvre. “I like to convey feelings that hint to darkness but also to the light,” she explains.
“I mainly take inspiration from flicking through old country-style cookbooks and also working from vignettes of my life. I don’t like my paintings to be traditional still lifes, but prefer to introduce ugly elements with unusual angles.”
A painter tends to spend a lot of time in, but what does Libby Haines do with her time out?
“I’ve just moved to Heidelberg, so I’m still discovering the local hot spots,” she explains. "Superdays is my go-to coffee, and I also love a family outing to the Heide Museum, especially since they have started preschool art sessions.
"I can get in my head a bit with my art, so a solo walk along the Yarra Trail starting at Possum Hollow has been a really good place to reset. At nighttime (and kid-free), I would go to Geralds Bar, Hope St Radio or Cam's Kiosk. A pre-requisite is a good dirty Martini and a glass of juicy red wine.”
A woman after our own heart.