Using light a creative joy

Larisse Hall enjoys seeing her works change as the light in a room changes such as (left) Hope...
Larisse Hall enjoys seeing her works change as the light in a room changes such as (left) Hope will Prevail (2024), oil on linen with 12V LED lighting, and Surprise (2021), oil on cotton with LED lighting. Photos: Gregor Richardson
To artist Larisse Hall, light and time are the crux of her work, which was originally inspired by the tough time her children had coming into the world. Rebecca Fox reports.

Larisse Hall believes if she can think it in her head, she can make it happen.

It might take time, finding the right people and perseverance, but Hall says her light-infused works are the proof the approach works.

A self-taught painter, she started out painting mixed-media landscapes, which sold well, but did not "speak" to her.

It was not until she painted a portrait of her son holding her daughter, at just 2 days old, after the family had been told she likely had brain damage from being deprived of oxygen at birth, that she had her "lightbulb" moment.

"When my son was born, prem by seven weeks, he had issues with his lungs, and my daughter was born with no oxygen. So for 11 minutes, she was considered not living."

She realised it fed back to why she had always gravitated towards artwork of any type of the Madonna and Child whenever she saw it around the world.

"I just think it’s a beautiful artwork — it has always spoken to me. So I suppose this is like my reinterpretation of it."

Now Hall knew what she wanted to do, she set about making it happen.

"Phases have developed over time, and it’s been one thing that’s led to another, and possibly not going to art school has helped me see things totally differently, because they are quite unique."

Her works often feature circular brushwork in reference to the Madonna and Child.

"That’s really important for me. It speaks to the traditional Madonna and Child. And that embrace my son held my daughter [in] when she was little, that unity and trust between them. So within all my work it kind of reflects back to that."

While her two children are now happy and healthy 20 and 17-year-olds, her first series was named "Breathe" — for the family’s experience in those early days.

"So for me that whole breathing life into the works is really important."

It led to her stretching and shaping her canvases into convex and concave shapes with the idea they would sit together.

"That was probably when I truly started and truly felt their freedom of being able to speak in a language that made sense to me. And I had sales from that exhibition too, so that also reinforced it."

The idea of infusing actual light into her paintings came after seeing another Nelson artist Andy Clover’s lightboxes.

"They’re just so cool. And the light emitting from it just coming from the words, that’s a beautiful energy and colour. And something about that really attracted me."

From there she had the idea of an outdoor, life-sized 1.7m-tall light sculpture Flirt, which she made for a Nelson light show. People’s response to the sculpture was "magic" and it was long-listed in the Aesthetica Art Prize in England (2015).

"So the lights actually move within them as if especially fluid. It’s like they were literally flirting. And so light just became this fascination for the way it lifted people and spread this joy."

We Will Heal (2024), oil on linen with 12V LED lighting.
We Will Heal (2024), oil on linen with 12V LED lighting.
Lighting also became a tool to speak to the concept of time, something that fascinates her as she and her children grow older.

"It’s something we don’t talk about but actually we are born dead. So time is a precious commodity."

So to incorporate light and time, Hall spent more than a year experimenting to create a process and outcome that "spoke" to her.

In her first works or "sketches" she experimented with glazing and colour to get a sense of light coming through the canvas without using actual direct physical light.

"I had so many fails. They got rubbished but I kept a few of them because I was really intent on trying to find a solution to this. I could sort of envision what I needed from the works. And they weren’t providing it for me. So there was a year of making that happen."

The experimentation ultimately led to her constructing her own canvas frames with wood by hand into curved surfaces before stretching over the canvas. She installs light behind them and then primes the canvas many times and uses oils to paint in layers to create the finish of her works, changing the light intensity as she goes to find the look she is aiming for.

"The light that I choose really changes the dynamic of the work as well as the actual painting, and use of colour."

The work also changes depending on the light in the room at any given time of the day.

"That’s deliberate. I want them to breathe through time. It becomes like a modern-day sort of (or my interpretation, I should say, of a) portrait, because people can engage with it. And because of all the changing environment [light] that means it’s quite ephemeral."

Her works are always asymmetrical because she is speaking to the balance in relationships whether it’s between a couple or a group of people.

"There’s always different scenarios, that yin and yang of somebody stepping forward, taking sort of control because while others sort of just step back a little bit. It’s this play between the energy.

"So the asymmetric asymmetry within the work has developed through that thinking. Also, as an artist, it’s more challenging to get the balance between the two as well. So I quite like [to] challenge myself within my work, because I don’t want it to get boring."

"This way I can speak to things in the world what’s happening."

She also aims for a "calming and unifying" energy within her work after realising certain colours do the opposite.

"It’s always my intention to sort of calmly uplift. Because you’re putting it out into the world and how we live in the things we have around you sort of impact on that. So I never would have a super-harsh red that glared out and made you feel kind of tense or angry. It’s just not what my works are about."

In her exhibition at Fe29 many of her works feature greens as she focuses on the planet and the environmental challenges facing the world.

"I’m really coming back to the planet. And it’s my forecast that we can look after the planet and then all will be green. And so there’s a lot of green in this room."

There is also a lot of pink in the exhibition because for Hall pink is an embracing colour.

"So the pinks and the greens are speaking to looking after the Earth and there’s lots of blues as well and then there’s also sort of a little bit of umber, a little bit more earthy chocolatey [colour]."

In her newer works, Hall has also experimented with using linen canvas, something she had avoided doing in the past as she struggled with the texture.

"I’m embracing that it’s more painterly and I think that’s so important. I want people to be aware in a way that I use a process that involves a paintbrush. And for me that’s a really meditative way that I have of blending my colour and achieving my colours."

We Loved (2024), oil on linen with 12V LED lighting.
We Loved (2024), oil on linen with 12V LED lighting.
She never knows when the circle that features in her works will emerge.

"It’s just intuitive, it happens when it needs to. But that mark for me is really important because it speaks to everyday action and also within the work I think it provides a different energy to the calmness of a flat painting. It adds another dynamic."

Hall loves to work big but for practicality reins in her sizes and shapes as it is easier to create the frames if they are standardised shapes as it enables her to get to the painting stage quicker.

She creates up to 10 works at a time by making up the frames all at once — cutting, shaping and stretching them all in steps so she does not waste time.

"It gets me in that head space as well. They need time to dry so then I can paint one and move on to another one and get that base layer down, let it dry and come back and finish that. But then with the oils, especially, they also require time to dry. So then I can work between the works as layers dry. And the works begin to inform each other, you know, because the best thing in a painting is the accidental happenings."

Just how each work will turn out is always a surprise to Hall.

"The best things are the things that shock you and you’re a little bit nervous about. And actually they’re the things I always come back to.

"The result of one will inform how I work on the next so each is creating their own personality, if you like, and achieve what I need from them differently."

She works in a studio with windows which are all covered allowing the natural light to filter in, but not bright light, so she see actual colours, but she also has a spot in her studio that is dark so she can look at works in that situation, too.

While she loves to paint — "my light-infused paintings, they’re my place of joy" — her work requires quite a bit of research as she seeks to push the boundaries of what she does. It means finding people with the skills who can help her create her vision, such as the lighting technician who has been helping her since she created Flirt, even when people say she cannot do something.

"Always behind the scenes a bigger work is happening. And so that’s where Flirt comes from. I’ve got The Night We Met, which is dancers on water. So that was a lot of research into counterbalancing and wanting them to pop back up. I’m not a yachtie. So I didn’t realise how much was involved. But you know, you get there and you’re making it work.

"And then to hear people appreciating them and seeing sort of what you’re trying to create with it is really beautiful."

In 2018, Hall had work selected to exhibit digitally internationally, as a finalist in Art Takes SOHO 2018 (See.Me) and Art Takes Miami 2018 (Scope See.Me) and in 2022, Hall won the Arte Laguna (Italy) Special Prize, an artist residency and exhibition in Barcelona, Spain.

Hall’s artistic journey has been a slow one as art was not valued in her family growing up so she was encouraged to take a more practical approach to career options.

After initially studying art history at university and being disappointed to find it did not involve any practical art, she decided to study fashion as it gave her an opportunity to be "arty" but also pay the bills.

While she travelled and worked in London in fashion, she always had a craving to be more creative, finding her impulse to work like crazy on only two hours’ sleep to produce work an indicator.

"My longing and my belief was always I’m an artist. It’s my way of expressing."

As well as her canvases she has continued to make larger light sculpture installations.

"I quite like creating immersive works as they engage in a different way. But also works that involve [an] audience so the audience becomes a part of the artwork, and that’s, like, my deconstructed paintings, the acrylic work, too. So it’s a way of taking people out of the mundane, I suppose. And giving them a bit of joy."


"In Time", Fe29 Gallery, until July 17. Late night Thursdays until 7pm for low-light viewing.