Australian-born artist and illustrator Christina Zimpel has collaborated with the likes of Nina Ricci, Michael Kors and Maison Kitsune. She talks to Natasha Gillespie-Wong about her inspirations, her new studio and creating murals for Hong Kong’s most anticipated private member’s club, Carlyle & Co., in the midst of a global pandemic
Privacy has taken on a whole new meaning over the last year. Demand for entertainment in a safe environment has never been higher and thus, private travel, clubs and experiences have become highly coveted. And, in Hong Kong, none so much as Carlyle & Co. at Victoria Dockside.
Inspired by the iconic Carlyle in New York (a Rosewood Hotel) and its legendary guests, the private members’ club will open this summer with a sprawling 25,000 square feet that includes an expansive outdoor terrace floating 50 stories above ground. Such an exclusive space – for “an exuberant community defined only by its depth of character and richness of spirit” no less – practically demands bold, cutting-edge artwork. And that’s where Christina Zimpel comes in.
Born in Perth and now living in Brooklyn, Zimpel worked as an art director for Vogue US and Australia before picking up a paintbrush and palette with the aim of capturing her life. “I started with portraits as they were challenging,” she says of the early self-portraits she posted on Instagram. “Years of working alongside my photographer husband, Patric Shaw, really helped me understand light, expression, believability. I love people; I love looking at their expressions. It’s infinitely interesting.”
Before long, Zimpel developed an instantly recognisable style of strong lines and bold colour. “I truly love colour,” she says. “It allows me to be an extrovert. I spend a lot of time balancing unusual combinations until they no longer feel unusual.”
While it may seem rough and random at times, the combination of colours in Zimpel’s paintings are in fact deliberate and sophisticated. “Fashion and photography absorbed via previous experience has also been invaluable to my colour sense, composition and nuance of expression,” she says of her former magazine work. “There’s an attention to detail that has stayed with me, and a liveliness.”
The child of the ’70s points to her parents’ penchant for mixing antiques and pop decor as one of her primary inspirations. “The artist who really inspired me the most is my mother, Judit Zimpel, a wonderful sculptor who sadly passed away late in 2019, but her spirit is always present and magical,” says Zimpel, who also credits Henri Matisse, Louise Bourgeois, Jacques Henri Lartigue and Peter Hujar with inspiring her aesthetic.
In addition to showing her paintings and drawings in New York, San Francisco, Madrid, Paris and Sydney, Zimpel has collaborated with a wide range of lifestyle brands on projects such as interiors, sculptural objects, capsule collections, and packaging and set design.
While she has become well known for working out of the kitchen of her New York home wearing jeans and a man’s shirt every day, Zimpel recently moved into a new studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “I still do a lot of work in the kitchen,” she says, laughing. “But I’ve developed into more of an Adidas tracksuit bottoms and baggy sweaters [style], in a non-sporty way. Sign of the times, I suppose!”
The work she created for Carlyle & Co. came out of this new studio during the lockdowns of 2020. “My daily routine had to become hyper-local. I live in Brooklyn and completely forgot all about New York City, as if I’m living in a little village,” Zimpel recalls. “As an artist I like working in solitude, but the prolonged isolation and lack of human interaction has been a challenge, not to mention trying to get my art supplies.”
Unlike her earlier works, in which she utilises big, fearless colour, the murals Zimpel created for Carlyle & Co. boast an elevated minimalism with confident lines – a pure pop of energetic, emotional, visual storytelling.
“I wanted the warm colours of the landscape to envelope the viewer, and the figures to be of a human scale and glow boldly in a vibrant red,” she says of the large-scale pieces inspired by the cosmopolitan eccentricities of Hong Kong and New York. “The idea of the mural is curiosity and meditation, looking both outwards and inwards. I wanted to bring a new curiosity and variety to the interior spaces and recognise worldly connections.”
The murals also continue Zimpel’s exploration of using colour to revive memories. “Spectacular landscapes are the most vivid memory of Hong Kong for me. I couldn’t help but be transported by the sheer natural beauty and use those feelings in my work,” she says. “I’m so grateful to have had this fascinating all-encompassing project to keep me sane and healthy during a year when so many people were having such enormous difficulties.”