When I spend time with Lily Duffy, I want to escape to the forest, skinny dip in a creek and cast out my wishes to a star-lit sky – because Lily is a woman for whom serendipity just happens and you can’t help but be swept away into her magical and colourful Universe. While other artists toil away and pay their dues in endless market stalls or exhibitions before some buy-in occurs, Duffy’s emerging art career appears to have happened entirely by accident.
Although not quite. Here’s a lesson that when you stay true to what you love without attachment, life has a way of sorting things out without too much of a push.
Painting for pleasure and release in the spaces between a somewhat consuming romance, Duffy would put up images of her bright swirling works on Instagram amongst her other daily rituals of swims, smoothies and sparkly outfits. When the said relationship ran its course, the lingering love for art made its residence a more permanent fixture in her life instead – which is why her and I are sitting at Orchard Street drinking caramel matcha tea today, musing how the hell it all just happened.
“A girl approached me for an interview for her blog!” Exclaims Duffy in her signature lilt, punctuated by a slightly haughty Kiwi accent. The blog ended up being for cult label Molten Store which gave Duffy instant cred – not that she was seeking it. “I just became friends with [founder] Jessy [Cameron] around Bondi, liking and following each other on social media until she wrote a message on Facebook – ‘I love your art!'” The said interview ensued, and Duffy was speaking of herself as an artist – a label that she will continue to try on for size until it fits as effortlessly as her signature linen dresses.
The next moment of discovery was once again in Bondi (a melting pot of all things earthy and creative), when Nimbus & Co infra-red spa owner Su invited Duffy to display on her walls, leading to an improptu exhibition space – and several sold works after. Again, no door knocking, no hustle – just flow.
“I meet amazing people at the Health Emporium where I’ve been working for 4 years,” she offers as way of explanation, referring to the organic whole-foods store, a Bondi institution that attracts the beautiful, glamorous and holistic with more zeal than a yoga ashram in LA.
The third fortuitous meeting that cemented her path occurred at a party in – you guessed it – Bondi, (or ‘the bubble’, as she calls it), where Duffy connected with a fellow guest, who happened to be Warren Macris from printing institution High Res Digital. Striking a creative camaraderie, High Res Digital is now Duffy’s go-to place to print her works (along with some of Australia’s most respected artists).
Since our interview, the synchronicity just keeps happening. When asked about which designers she likes most, Lucy Folk gets a glowing mention. One week later, she is offered an (unadvertised) job to run Folk’s new Bondi store, PLAYA.
So what are some of her philosophies that allow divine things to land in perfect timing? Right on cue, I witness the said ex-boyfriend pull up on his motor bike outside the juice bar, the mere moment she grants him a mention. She nonchalantly waves him away (she’s in an interview after all!) – and we exchange knowing and slightly bemused looks at her woo-woo power. Duffy has a knack for conversing with her inner being, with crystals and her works as easily as one would with their shrink – and her business decisions have been equally guided.
“I had a work that just didn’t flow for several weeks. Then I was awoken in the middle of the night and this voice said ‘lets go!’. I finished it in 45 minutes flat.” This ‘FREEDOM’ piece, among others now wait patiently for their rightful exhibition portal in her home.
Before she gets into her work, Duffy has a ritual of downing spirulina “I’m obsessed!”, dawdling to the beach and sitting to sip tea at Tamarama Kiosk (the handsome waiter apparently has little to do with her devoted pilgrimage). She also recharges “always!” at Nimbus & Co with a detoxifying sauna – but it’s not like she’s living the hard life.
When I met her several years ago and we were both on the ‘workshop’ circuit and doing ‘inner work’, I came to know her as a sort of ‘spiritual pixie’ – all flouncey dresses, a crop of blonde hair, willowy form and a bouncy attitude. Still, there is a steely focus that belies a depth of authority.
“Diving deep through the spirituality work, I now have access to new parts of myself. I can live with uncertainty without getting anxious or upset. I can swim in it. I’ve been to rock bottom.”
And this confidence shows. Despite her girlish enthusiasm, a love of pink and glitter, this Duffy is far from fluffy. She expresses herself with eloquent articulation (when not singing with delight) and has some clear ideas for her work.
“I see myself displayed in homes that enjoy their own unique style and have an understanding of good taste. I think my paintings are just as at home in an elegant setting as within a young family environment where parents wanting to inject colour and joy into their children’s world. I also want to go beyond the canvas – collaborate with other designers and artists on new projects and mediums. And I don’t want to devalue my work.”
Swirling and happy colours define her style, bold brushstroke movements that intuitively take shape in unknown and sweet configurations. “Sometimes it looks like a child has painted these… but I like it that it’s kind of messy!” she laughs. She then prints her works High Res Digital (an average work is 31.5inches x 23.6inches), where they take on a second life through fresh customisation such as a paint overlay, cute quotations and usually, some glitter. There’s always a feminine element like flowers or balloons, aimed to relax and delight the viewer. While personalised pieces are still created from each reborn print, Duffy is saving her originals for a proper exhibition – clearly a sign for an artist who knows her stock will grow.
Originally from Dunedin, Duffy was working for Slick Willys New Zealand boutique for 6 years as a fashion buyer, attending Fashion Week, traveling and being immersed in a fashion that cult labels like Lover and Sass&Bide can offer. Said spiritual phase followed, and what is now to the outside observer, is emerging at the ‘art phase’.
The label makes her prickle – “I don’t want to be just the ‘spiritual girl’, or just the ‘fashion girl’, or just the ‘art girl’. I am just doing what comes through me, and doing what I love. I want to have a big life and I love nice things… and it’s feeling nice to embrace fashion again.”
When asked her favourites, she gleefully rattles off labels like Poppy Lissiman and ManiaMania, Lucy Folk and Miu Miu – juxtaposed with simple linnen dresses by Sir The Label and TuChuzy brand Chosen as her favourites. This style aesthetic suits her personality – colourful and bright, yet with a streamlined base. For artists, she mentions Willem de Kooning, Murray Fredericks, photographer Greg Nagel and local favourite Dina Broadhurst.
Duffy has been commissioned to create several works, including one for a man – which may be off-brief with her feminine and sparkly sentiment. Of course, when one is not afraid to use her intuition – “that commission actually worked out perfectly, I let it do its thing” – she does not yet feel the pressure to churn out works like a factory and can sit on a piece, working diligently every day, yet OK to let a piece take on a pause until the inspiration for its completion comes along.
Next up, Duffy has no concrete goals (that would not be her style), but rather firm visions of where she wants to go. Namely, it’s Europe. With her background and love for fashion, she envisions her art printed on fabric and constructed into clean-cut summer dresses, as encouraged by her old New Zealand boss Amy from Slick Willys who saw potential in her vibrant designs.
“I want to take it outside painting, but I’m letting it happen. The message is always – Lily – be where you are right now and I know it’s unfolding as it should.”
A reminder to drop in, take a breath and each trust our talents a little bit more.
See below for more of Lily’s favourite artists, designers and Bondi haunts:
Hanging with Lily:
Current fashion muse?
•Aureta. She’s fricken cool and I love the art she is creating also.
5 favourite recent clothing purchases?
•Purple glitter Miu Miu sunnies
•Poppy Lissiman bag and clutch
•Rose gold Midas shoes
•Black and White Star dress, Chosen by Tuchuzy
•Gracey mini dress by Sir the label – I bought in baby pink and also white… (if you really love something get 2 😉 )
5 Favourite artist inspiration/ muses?
Favourite fashion designers right now?