Christina Zimpel is a New York based artist, and long-term Lee Mathews collaborator, who distills her subject matter – be it a fashion icon or a landscape – into its very essence. Her experimental approach ensures her vibrant works always pack a punch. "Colour is so beautiful to work with, it’s exciting and a puzzle to get right", she says.

I loved this quote from your bio. “The big sky and grounding horizon adds cinematic drama.” What are your memories of growing up in Perth?

I took the sky for granted as a young person, and grumbled about our remoteness to everything. We lived at the end of the earth as far as I was concerned. I longed for the big cities that I saw in the movies. I still love cities but I’ve grown to understand that openness is a gift and that the wide, low landscape of Western Australia is pure and beguiling. I always loved the trees but now I am almost shocked by how sculptural and majestic they are when confronted by them. More and more I’m finding myself painting clear landscapes and the weather and people driving right into it. Driving is a memory I keep coming back to.

Did you grow up in a creative family? And if so how did that shape your outlook and interests?

I did grow up in a creative family. My parents were always making and doing things. Even though my dad was a businessman he also made wood carvings , painted , experimented with pretty much every musical instrument , and he still still paints today. My mum was an amazing ceramic sculptor, and had a keen eye for interior design and fashion. Her Hungarian heritage shaped so much of the world around us. She remains a huge influence on my work.

From artistic director on prestigious fashion magazines to artist – what is your career path? Any highlights? And any words of wisdom to a younger you?

My path has been full of gaps and as much as I thought I knew what I was doing I didn’t really. I always had a strong visual sense and a deep appreciation of other peoples talents but thought I was there to pull all of that together. I actually loved doing that and working within a team. But it slowly dawned on me that I needed to express myself in another way, and discovered I could paint and draw which was a big relief! I only wish I figured it out earlier, but that is my path I suppose.

How did travel impact your creative life?

I actually haven’t done a lot of travelling compared to some, especially not lately! My husband and I, and then later my sons Ali and Callum, moved around together. After living in Sydney we moved first to Paris then to New York for Patric’s career as a photographer. I got to know the cities we lived in. I learnt a lot about photography and production during those years . I was more of an observer and support system but I absorbed the culture and nuances and met a lot of lifelong friends. We have now been in New York for 22 years so I guess it’s home although we all feel 100% Australian.

Your work is impactful and highly charged. Observations - whether portraits (Polly Borland / Marc Jacobs) or trees and flowers - there is a sense of distillation – that only what matters is present. By what process do you arrive at that place?

I start the drawing or painting with much more detail , and as I step back I see what to eliminate and round out. I love very detailed paintings but mine just don’t feel right like that. I like to get to the essence of the idea, and to convey a moment like a great photograph does. With portraits there must be a subtle expression that indicates that person is alive.

Collaborations with a variety of brands from fashion, (including Lee Mathews) to beauty and hospitality, are part of your working life. What is the best part about a successful collaborative project?

If the person you are working with is pushing you to be your best, I love that. If you learn something new it’s also wonderful . With Lee, ours is a great friendship and a creative compatibility that goes back so far we almost don’t need to ask each other very much , we just have a clear understanding of each other.

What can you tell us about your studio in Brooklyn Navy Yard? Is it a place that supports ideas and imagination? Does it get cold?

It’s a fantastic hive full of artists and makers and innovators. I love going there everyday, it’s where I can be myself . The most liberating thing about my space is that now I work big. I didn’t realise how natural it would feel and scaling up has really opened up my practice. As far as being cold, it’s actually very cosy in winter, it’s summer that’s hell , and it’s at its hottest right now. I finally bought a fan.


What does a good day look like for you?

A completely empty agenda, so I can go to the studio all day and blast my favourite music and hopefully create something good!

There is such a positive punch of energy in your work, whether intensely coloured or monochromatic. Do you need to be in a certain mindset to work well?

No, I force myself to work every day whether I feel like it or not. I have super productive days and others I’m sitting and staring. Colour is so beautiful to work with, it’s exciting and a puzzle to get right . When I work with ink I am at my most experimental and often use them as jumping off points for new paintings.

Do you have clothes for making art and clothes for other occasions? Or are they one and the same?

I am the most monotonous dresser most days. The pandemic has really gotten me used to sweatpants! At least they were sky blue. I might veer off the path and wear my sons hand me downs. I’m going to get very dirty so I rarely wear anything nice to the studio. If I’m going out I have a set of nicely patterned shirts and generally pair them with a mannish pant and sandals. That’s it!

Does your love of colour and the palette in your work shift across to you the clothes you are attracted to wear?

More and more! I love colourful clothes as long as they are quite simple, and love to combine the colours like I would my paints. I rarely wear all black.

Fabric, shape, colour, pattern, fit – what drives your choices?

I am most interested in comfort and something that conveys my conflict between classic and eccentric.

Where is home and what matters most to you in the space you occupy?

Home is Brooklyn . It’s a wonderful place to live, never boring. Lovely people. Our house is bulging with all of the family’s creative pursuits and getting less and less minimal by the minute . I really love the garden which is also getting messier. What matters most to me is my family, that they are happy and the house is welcoming.

Photography: Patric Shaw

Words: Karen McCartney