Lani Imre: A "chick drawing chicks" 

Art show at Millennium Place on display now

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Lani Imre, in case you haven't noticed, likes to draw women. Her paintings blend sexuality and the natural world, incorporating urban art and highly detailed portraits of imaginary characters.

But, as we say, they're always women.

"I need to start painting something else soon," she says, staring at her newly installed exhibit at Millennium Place. "It's kind of crazy when they all get compiled together. It's like, whoa, I've painted a lot of chicks."

Why she does this, she says, is difficult to explain but all her paintings are partly autobiographical. Some document their stories through song, others through fiction but Imre has chosen to tell hers through a series of portraits of imaginary women. It's also one of the most compelling exhibits Millennium Place has had to date.

But, as she says, she's no trailblazer in this regard.

"I'm definitely not the only chick drawing chicks, that's for sure," she says.

She adds, "I guess when I say that, one of the things that distinguishes my work a little bit is the faces are given so much attention. I really try to make each girl unique."

Indeed, each face is meticulously crafted and clearly laboured over. The rest of each painting is ethereal, purposely hazy in spots, centering on the face. Each one is its own character.

The art will often be worked on for years — even after they've been exhibited in public. She points to only four of her canvases that she considers finished.

"It's totally up to my own assessment when it's finished," she says. She points to a life-size figure with a mass of frizzy black hair, which she'd been working on for around three years.

She grew up near Salmon Arm and moved to Squamish several years ago to start a family. Last year she gave birth to her first son, Koa, an experience that has, quite naturally, influenced her work — though less in what's being painted, rather it's how it is being painted.

"My subject, obviously, hasn't changed, but I think the attention to my work has changed and maybe the vibrancy. I've been strengthening certain elements," she says.

She's lately branching out into T-shirt making, phone skins and other mediums where she can market her work. For much of her career, she's made a living through her paintings — a remarkable feat for any artist in this day and age, never mind a painter — and has sold them to clients all across the world. She's had friends report back that her prints have been hanging in apartments from Hong Kong to the Kootenays.

"It's cool when it comes back to you because you realize how much work you've actually made, and that it's actually out there, which is really satisfying and wonderful," she says.

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