Minna Leunig

Artist — People of Kuwaii

We sat down with local Melbourne artist Minna Leunig, the talented mind behind our exclusive Terra Incognita print. Minna paints “playful, primal and earthy images inspired by the natural world”, and shares with Kuwaii a profound love and respect for the Australian landscape and all its life forms. With our SS19 collection taking inspiration from the rich colours of the Australian bushland, we thought Minna was the perfect match for a very special collaboration this season.

How did you get where you are? Study – work – life – mentors – inspirations 

I’ve always tended to follow my nose a bit. Having grown up in an artistic family and environment, my own artistic temperament was something I took for granted early on. I never really gave much thought to studying fine arts after I finished high school, in fact I think I almost dismissed the idea; too close to home maybe. Instead, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts course and ended up majoring in gender studies.

At uni I became really engaged with feminism, Australian Indigenous studies and sociology, and volunteered/interned/worked at a number of different women’s organisations around Melbourne (as well as working kitchen, retail and factory jobs throughout these years). Eventually though, I felt like something wasn’t gelling. Although my interest in feminism and the issues affecting women, girls and non-binary folk was (and still is) strong, I couldn’t see myself working in these areas long term. So I switched things up entirely and got a job in conservation. I’m originally a country girl, so working outside amongst trees and exposed to the elements felt like a much needed return to myself. It was during these years that my arts practice really started to make its way to the forefront. The whole while I’d been in school, at uni and working various jobs trying to figure out what I wanted to ‘do’, art remained a consistent part of my life. From my early twenties onwards I was contributing to group shows and taking on collaborative projects wherever I could. I eventually progressed to solo shows and painting murals too (another case of following my nose). I guess it became clear over time that art was the one thing I had the most energy for. It gave me such a strong sense of satisfaction and made me feel so much like myself. About a year and a half ago, I decided to take the leap and go full-time with it – give all my energy to it and see what happened. Being a full time artist is hard work – full of highs and lows. It can be incredibly anxiety inducing to rely solely on oneself – the reality is that no one else is going to pick up the slack if I don’t feel like it. So I work pretty much every day. It’s hard, but it’s also incredibly enlivening. The sense of satisfaction I get from what I do makes the hard work feel extremely worth it. This is what feels right for now.

A work from Minna Leunig’s ‘Heat Shimmer’ 2019 series.

How long have you been practising your art?

For as long as I can remember. I can’t think of a point at which I ‘started’. I’ve been playing, exploring, making and creating things ever since I was very young – a tiny baby probably. Drawing, painting, moulding creatures out of clay and plasticine and play-doe, sewing, knitting, cooking, playing guitar and piano, carving wood, hammering things together in the shed, writing stories, creating comics and magazines and jumps courses for my horses… it all feels like art to me. My creativity is an integral part of who I am, something continuous and evolving rather than something I started at a particular point.

 

How did you develop your unique style?

By following my gut instinct. I think it’s really important to listen to your own intuitive feeling when it comes to creativity – to go with what looks and feels right to you. Whenever I’ve become too concerned with what other people are doing or thinking, I feel like my own creative flow is broken. I try to keep focused on what I want to do and make, and stay in tune with my own interests, tastes and feelings. I think the best way to develop a unique style is to trust your own knowing.

Tell us about the Kuwaii collaboration, what was the process and how did it come about?

When Kristy first approached me about working on a collaboration, I was super excited! I’ve admired Kuwaii ever since I first became aware of them around 5-6 years ago, and having the opportunity to collaborate with a label that has such a strong and likeminded set of ethics when it comes to the environment, sustainability, gender equality and community empowerment has been a dream.

A work from Minna Leunig’s ‘Colour’ series.

The print I designed for the SS 19/20 collection ‘Terra Incognita’ is inspired by what most of my work is inspired by – the unique strength, spirit and vitality of the native Australian landscape and its creatures. Growing up country, the land was a powerful presence throughout my formative years, mysterious and life affirming. It still is – beach, bush, desert, rainforest, mangrove – every landscape I encounter, creature I meet, seems to etch its way into my consciousness and then find its way out again through pencil and paint. And now onto fabric apparently!
This collaboration has been a completely new experience for me, and one that I’m so grateful and honoured to have had.

The Kuwaii x Minna Leunig Black & White Terra Incognita print.

Tips for female artists starting out?

I’m repeating myself, but trust your gut instinct – let it guide you. Never lose your sense of play… but be prepared to work hard and put in the hours, consistently and over time. Also – don’t let anyone make you feel belittled or like you don’t belong. I’ve had some unfortunate experiences with men in the industry (and outside of it) attempting to rattle me, and I won’t lie – a few times I have been. As Bjork has commented: “You’re not just imagining things. It’s tough. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times”. I’d encourage any female artist starting out not to dwell on these unpleasant experiences too much – it’s important to talk about them, but at the end of the day, let bygones be bygones. Just stay focused on what you’re doing and do it well.

 

 

 

Sustainable life tips or thoughts?

I do a lot of the obvious things – eat plant based, shop mostly second hand and make sure the things I do buy new are locally produced or ethically sourced wherever possible. But I also fly in planes and own a car. Living in the modern developed world, it’s near impossible to live a truly sustainable lifestyle.

And while I think it’s important that we as individuals all make as great an effort as we can (it’s important to care and keep positive momentum up), I think an over focus on individual responsibility is dangerous as it distracts from the real problem which is Government. It’s Government decisions that have the greatest negative impact on our environment (eg. Adani), so I think staying engaged with politics and attempting to have your voice heard is important. What we need is a major cultural shift – shorter showers ain’t gonna cut it.