Meet Petria Lenehan. Fashion designer turned full-time artist, Dublin-native Petria recently unveiled her first series of paintings inspired by Hudson River close to where she lives in New York. We spoke to Petria about making the switch from fashion to fine art, of course, the topic no one can escape in 2020 – how’s lockdown?
Guide us through how you became involved in the fashion industry and what led you to your current work in fine art?
I became interested in fashion as a student in Trinity College Dublin and left there in 2001 to study Fashion design at FIT in Florence and New York. After a short stint in London, I moved back to Dublin where I opened my own shop specialising in independent clothing brands that hadn't made it to Ireland yet. This was pre=online shopping so it was very exciting to be able to bring something new to Ireland. I started designing some of my own pieces for the store which eventually led to having my own label. When I moved to New York with my family in 2015, I brought the label with me, selling mainly online and to a few independent stores in New York. I have always dabbled with painting and it was when I was living in Brooklyn that I had the wild idea to start painting in the bedroom of our apartment.
After a couple of years painting part time and as my own style really began to emerge, I built up the confidence to put the work out into the world and so with a lot of faith, have spent the last year transitioning from the clothing label to becoming a full-time artist.
You spent most of the lockdown in New York, how did you find it?
We moved from Brooklyn to the Hudson valley, NY in 2015 so we were lucky to be out of the city for the lockdown. As a family we were isolated from other people but surrounded by space and nature so plenty of room to breathe and get out of the house and of course some alone time! We missed Ireland a lot and family and friends back home. I found some consolation in painting and set up a studio at home which was amazing as a way to escape domestic life even momentarily and to have something else to focus on.
Are there any New York or Irish artists who have inspired you?
I love the work of the Irish artist Colm Mac Athlaoich and the American artists Andrew Wyeth and Pat De Groot. I have recently spent time in Maine, a place that has always attracted and inspired many painters. I was lucky enough to see many of Wyeth's incredible works at the Farnsworth museum in Rockland, Maine this summer, a definite highlight of my time in the US.
Do you think there is a definite divide between what makes good art to hang and good art to wear?
In a way both serve as a means of self-expression as we are drawn to pieces that spark something in us. For me, when it comes to clothes, as well as having an impact visually, they must be practical and each piece in my wardrobe serves a particular purpose. If I find the right piece, I am so happy and don't feel the need for several versions of it. When it comes to creating work to hang, there is a lot more freedom for the artist as they are less confined by things like fit, shape and fabric choice. We have a lot of art hanging in our home, some bought, some exchanged with artist friends and some created by my 7 year old daughter, Robyn. One of my favourite pieces was bought at a stoop sale in Brooklyn for 25 cents! Every single piece feels precious and meaningful not solely because of its visual impact but because I feel it represents us as a family and our personal story.
Thanks again for speaking to us Petria. If you would like more information on Petria Lenehan art, visit petrialenehan.com or check out @petrialenehan on Instagram.