Exploring multicultural Melbourne with an artist and her Porsche

Australian artist Lionia Singh explores multicultural Melbourne aboard her beloved Porsche Cayenne

7w ago
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A stroll through Brunswick will expand your cultural horizons. For decades this suburb of Melbourne has been shaped by immigrants from around the world, bringing new influences and outlooks to what was fast becoming hotbed of creativity and artistic expression.

Portrait artist Lionia Singh, who prefers to go by by her first name, arrived in Brunswick the age of ten. She had emigrated from Portugal with her family three years earlier, initially settling in Sydney. Now 46 and herself the mother of two teenagers, she still vividly remembers the momentous move.

“We lived in Salvaterra, a small inland town. Our cousins lived on the same street, and we roamed around, jumped off rope swings into rivers, and enjoyed a marvellous sense of freedom.” Australia was truly foreign to the Portuguese youngster, who had yet to learn English and initially felt very isolated. But friends from different walks of life were soon a part of a rich new life. “Some of them were Poles, Greeks, Italians, Pakistanis – we all went to each other’s homes, tasted different cuisines, and learned about each other’s customs. They are the inspiration for the Faces of the World series.” These large-scale portraits have made a name for Lionia, drawing viewers into the differing worlds of their subjects at her showroom in nearby Black Rock, Bayside.

The area forms part of the Mornington Peninsula, a perfect coastal setting for Lionia to escape the hustle and bustle of Melbourne in her Porsche Cayenne. “Every day I fall in love all over again with the gorgeous details of this car,” she says, “and enjoy the confident ease of driving it. My family likes to go on long trips, and our dog is also very happy in the Cayenne.”

Relaxation and escapism are an essential part of Lionia’s life today. After graduating from the renowned School of Fashion and Textiles at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, she and a friend created the Steflion fashion label before Lionia moved to London to work as a style advisor for the nascent online retailer Net-A-Porter. “What I experienced in the world of fashion really helps with my art,” Lionia says. “Because fashion means making a statement. That plays a key role in my work. And it was in fashion that I also discovered the powerful impact of colour.”

In 2005, she returned to Melbourne, the fashion industry’s high levels of stress and frequent travel having proved incompatible with family life, and it was here that motherhood prompted her to take up drawing again. “My children only saw me as a mother who cared for them, but I wanted to show them something of the life I had led before they were born. My pictures are intended to get people to drop any preconceived ideas, and to find out more about other ways of life.”

She admires Coco Chanel and Frida Kahlo, who could hardly have more different styles and approaches. “Coco Chanel is all about minimalism and goes by the motto of ‘before you go out, take something off.’ Frida Kahlo, on the other hand, is about adding more; she goes nuts with flowers, and I linger between both of them for inspiration!”

Lionia painted the film star Salma Hayek, inspired by her role artist Frida in the movie Frida, and continues to paint stylised images from the fashion world which convey human vulnerability, but her focus now is on Indigenous peoples. Aboriginal children, Maori women, members of tribal cultures in Africa and Bali. The works are striking, hyperreal – expressions of Lionia’s longing to arrive at a deeper understanding of the world.

When she began to paint in 2015, Lionia wanted to articulate her own unrest with discrimination against the Indigenous population and she later donated part of her Faces collection to the World Vision Australia development organisation. “When you don’t know something, you tend to be scared of it. But growing up in a multicultural area showed me that we all basically want the same things.”

In her latest work, spirituality is playing a greater role. A new painting entitled Golden Lessons, an expansive mural-like work, portrays a weeping woman. “I’m more interested in the evolution of our soul and the lessons we have to learn in life. This work says you can cry, but have you learned something from that experience? Sometimes you’re better off from going through a golden lesson in life."

Cayenne: fuel consumption combined: 9.4 – 9.2 l/100 km (NEDC); CO2 emissions combined 215 – 210 g/km (NEDC)

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