Welcome to Pillowtalk, the series where we delve into the lives of fascinating creatives and explore how their homes shape their artistic practice. In the latest installment, we had the pleasure of chatting with Libby Haines, a talented painter whose vibrant still-life works celebrate the beauty of everyday moments and the nostalgia of objects.
Originally from Sale, Gippsland, Haines made the move to Melbourne, where she now works from her home studio. As both a mother and an artist, Haines's creations are infused with a profound appreciation for the joys of life and the beauty of domesticity. Drawing inspiration from her background in fashion and jewelry design, she brings a strong sense of colour and pattern to her paintings, creating rich and dynamic compositions. Drawing influence from creative figures such as Kathryn Del Barton, Frida Kahlo, Mark Rothko, and Helen Frankenthaler, Haines embraces the power of color as an emotional language.
For Haines, the creation of each painting is a deeply immersive process. Ideas incubate in her mind, evolving and taking shape over the course of a few days or through the act of jotting down a few words. Once a concept solidifies, she sketches a rough plan, but it is in the application of thick, messy, wet-on-wet paint that her artworks truly come alive. Focused and driven, Haines is completely absorbed in her art, obsessively dedicated to each piece until it reaches completion.
Join us as we delve deeper into the artistic world of Libby Haines, exploring the intimate connection between her home, her art, and her imaginative process.
First off, introduce yourself. Who are you and what is your practice?
My name is Libby, and I’m an artist who paints colourful still-lifes depicting scenes from everyday life (usually food) using vivid colours and textural brush strokes. Painting for me is a form of escapism, a chance to step outside of myself, my own thoughts and be entirely in a moment.
A large portion of your work seems to revolve around the idea of communal eating, be that an intimate dinner between two or a raging lunch for twelve. How important is a shared meal in your life?
Cooking, eating and painting are my coping mechanisms and my escape. They are the way I show affection, express myself and release stress. I love to entertain and despite the tizz it inevitably sends me into before the guests arrive, there’s nothing more satisfying than cooking a meal I know is good, for people I care about. I love eating and I love it even more if the company is good. A good meal can transform a mood, and a day, and can spark conversation and memories.
Run us through a typical day in the life, shall we start with your morning routine?
My days usually begin quite abruptly, after being woken by one of my kids. They are 5 and 3, and while I have never been a morning person, they wake with a certain level of gusto (let’s call it a zest for life) that is hard to match. My husband Sam and I make their breakfast and have a coffee together. We like to call it the morning shit show because it usually is pretty chaotic, with quick showers with kids wandering in and out, trying to get the kids dressed and ready for the day.
They like to have “a little bit of play” before we go anywhere too, so we are always running late. At the moment Lego rules our home and it’s showing up in every nook and cranny. If it’s a day I’m working, then the kids will either go to daycare or Sam will have them for the day. He left his job as a surveyor at the start of 2022 to come and work with me. He makes all the frames for my paintings and does all my fine art printing The flexibility we now have in our work days is ideal while the kids are still young and we get along surprisingly well for two people who spend so much time together.
Getting to my studio is sometimes dramatic, the kids like to have lots of goodbyes and hugs even though I’m only going to be mere metres away. My studio is separate from my house, but in my backyard still so if they decide they need a “Mumma cuddle” or to tell me something, I’m close by. Once I’m in my studio my headphones go in and I focus on my painting for the day. I like to listen to audiobooks when I paint, it’s a way to immerse myself in a fictional world and it helps with any anxiety or racing thoughts I might have. I release two paintings a week on Instagram and am usually working on some bigger pieces simultaneously if I have an upcoming exhibition.
Evenings are similar to mornings, lots of playing, eating, mess, chaos, and cheekiness, then once the kids are in bed, Sam and I are usually exhausted and in need of couch time. I like to cook a gourmet meal a few times a week, pasta from scratch with sides and nice wine.. nothing beats that.
When and how did your love of still-life painting begin?
Melbourne's first lockdown in 2020 coincided with my decision to end my jewellery brand, which I had been operating for the last 6 years. I learnt SO much from running my own business, and despite some big successes with it, it was really hard to make a profit. When I finally decided to call it quits, it was bittersweet. I studied art at university years ago but hadn't painted properly again in 12 years. By deciding to let go of the jewellery brand, it was like a creative hole opened up within me and felt the urge to start painting again. And once I started, something was really awakened in me, I hadn't felt so much passion and drive to create in a long time. I was home with the kids (both under 2 at the time) and almost overnight, painting was all I could think about. When I wasn't parenting all I wanted to do was make more art. I was setting myself goals to get a large painting done a week while in lockdown with no real end game aside that it gave me purpose and I was enjoying it. And lockdown kept going so I kept painting. I never could have dreamt it would result in this becoming my full-time job. All I knew was that the joy it was bringing me was immeasurable.
What was the last great meal you shared with friends?
I recently went up to Byron Bay for a friend's birthday and we had lunch at Frida’s Field in Bangalow. Like the name suggests it was out in the hills looking out onto a lush field. We sat at a long table with great food, wine and company, celebrating our beautiful friend. I threw in an impromptu speech that was all cheesy and loved up (and I definitely didn’t cringe about it the next day).
What does the ultimate dinner party look like to you? Set the scene for us.
It starts with a delicious selection of wine, and the addition of a cocktail, maybe a dirty martini. I think candles and mood lighting are a must, with a table that has been beautifully set. And seeing as this is a fantasy, my children have drifted off to sleep with no qualms, I’ve had adequate time to prep the meal and make myself glamourous and am noticeably calm and collected when the guests arrive (rather than a sweaty hot mess who isn’t prepared). Then we enjoy the meal I’ve prepared which has the perfect balance of flavours and textures that my guests ooh and ahh over, followed by lots of laughter, silliness and juicy convo. All the while the perfectly paired tunes play in the background.
Which foods do you most enjoy painting?
Anything juicy and sexy, something colourful and rich in texture. Like a piece of fruit that has been split open, the contents are oozing out. I like to contrast the juiciness/richness with the addition of something ugly, like a phone on the table, car keys, a wine stain, or a crushed can.
How has your relationship with food impacted your artistic practice?
Food has always been a big part of my life, and its influence probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me well. I love eating in, I love eating out, I love cooking and being cooked for.
I usually paint foods I am craving to eat, or foods I have recently eaten. My paintings are always based on crappy photos I take on my phone in a restaurant, out and about and eating at home, and then I turn into a sketch. I often simplify the scenes and use colour blocking to add a level of drama. I paint with oils and primarily paint alla prima (wet on wet) which is a process I love. I apply my paint liberally and very thickly, and I think my use of colour is where it really starts to come alive. I think I keep coming back to food as a subject matter because of the infinite textures and colours that are found in my meals. I usually have a few colour combinations that I’m obsessed with for a few weeks and then move on to others. When I’ve finished a painting, in all honesty, I usually hate it. Luckily oils take a few weeks to dry, so by the time my painting has dried, I’ve usually come around.
Your work seems to encapsulate the domesticity of life, what are some of the ways you find beauty in the day-to-day life at home?
When I first started painting and sharing my work I was completely isolated. It was the isolation of lockdowns but also the isolation that often comes with being a mother to young children. So the inside of my home was where I spent all my time and I found myself staring at the same scenes every day. Painting became a way to reinvent and create an alternate reality where everything is rich and vivid, and while the chaos and mess are still there, it is celebrated through colour and texture. The subject matter was never as important to me as the colour and the feeling I have when I paint. Capturing the joy and the messiness of everyday life, and celebrating the mundanity of it all too.
Long lunch or dinner party?
Dinner party for sure. I think I had better stamina for long lunches when I was younger but now I would choose a dinner party hands down
Photography By Libby Haines