A stateside painter communicating through symbolism and the surreal.

(RIGHT) Jacket and shorts SHAN HUQ

Jacket and shorts SHAN HUQ

To start her day, Leila Rahimi’s been eating peaches in the sunshine. “I was about to wish you a good morning,” she laughs warmly through the phone from LA. It’s 9am for her, a grizzly 5pm in London for me. Somewhere between her disarming openness and my Friday afternoon G&T, we’re quickly swapping stories about family and love and heartbreak.

You may already, and most definitely should, follow the artist and model on Instagram. Eclectic and off-kilter, her page is a visual delight. A handgun embossed with baby pink flames. Disneyland’s Minnie Mouse slumped on the street, smoking. X-rated strip club adverts alongside road signs for Toys ‘R’ Us. It highlights her eye for capturing subversive beauty within everyday life – which is also a predominant theme in her art.

Layered with symbolism and the surreal, Rahimi’s paintings reimagine the fables that defined her younger years. “I’m driven by memories, drawing a lot from my childhood and dreams,” she explains: “I’m really into myths and fairytales, they can be both disarming and universal. I use a lot of archetypal symbols in order to communicate, like snakes and flowers.”

Top and skirt PACO RABANNE, shoes Leila’s own

Top and skirt PACO RABANNE, shoes Leila’s own

Indeed, in her most recent show “The Myth of Paradise and Other Lies They Told Us”, (“an exploration of love and deception”), dark serpents and skulls are juxtaposed against serene, translucent pastels. A dolly mixture palette of oranges, purples and blues is offset with shocking lurid yellow. Crayons are used to create texture, but also “to arouse a remembrance of childhood.” Questioning life, love and death, Rahimi’s art examines identity as much as it indulges escapism.

In exploring her own identity, Rahimi’s Iranian-American heritage is a central theme. “To be honest, this is such a loaded question for me,” she says thoughtfully, when I ask how Iran’s rich cultural history informs her work. She describes the country with detailed fervour, the way only an artist who seeks to capture its essence could. When Rahimi speaks of Iran, it’s tangible. “Mostly I’m inspired by ancient traditions – from the blinding beauty of Persian rugs, to the flavours of saffron and rose in the food, ” she begins: “And the dizzying, beautiful architecture and gardens. I love fruits and fauna as symbols too, they’re very Iranian. For such a polarising country, it’s indisputably sensual and romantic.”

Rahimi feels an equally sentimental attachment to LA, where she’s lived since childhood. It’s her favourite place to make art, especially at her family’s old home in Malibu. “We have a little glass room, which kind of feels like a greenhouse,” she recounts fondly. “I love to paint in there, surrounded by trees and overlooking the ocean. Nobody really goes in there but me. It’s full with spiders webs, and wild lizards running around.” Otherwise, you’ll find her exploring, photographing the unconventional, or hanging out with Hollywood’s creatives and muses alike. But while her artwork plays with dream worlds and pure fantasy, Rahimi’s favourite place to be is just chilling at her mum’s. With a craft steeped so heavily in her home and heritage, where could be a better haven?

Walker Bunting
Shan Huq
Rosie Byers