Leanne Rutter AROI shares the stories behind her paintings in the ROI Annual Exhibition 2018, and how the institute helped to kickstart her art career.

'My relationship with the ROI began in 2009 when I exhibited with the society for the first time. I was fresh out of university and fairly unsure of my place in the world. One year later, I received both the Phyllis Roberts Award and 3rd prize in the Winsor & Newton Young Artist Award at the ROI Annual Exhibition. That recognition and support has been so useful for my artistic progression, and I hope to become a member of the ROI soon.'

'My paintings in this year’s exhibition reflect my love of travel, from the deserts and vast lakes of Southern Africa, and the lush jungles of Mexico, to resplendent woodlands in California and beyond. Here are some of the stories behind the works.'

'Before I left for South Africa, a friend taught me how to tattoo. Possessing this skill has changed so much for me - the way I travel, the people I meet, and my whole relationship with art and process. I had been going through a period of disenchantment, but through tattooing my creativity rushed back. While painting could feel lonely, I was suddenly working with interesting people every day. Tattooing funded my travels, and my travels inspired my art, helping me to love painting in a new way.'

Needless, Malawi

Needless, Malawi by Leanne Rutter AROI: Oil, 40 x 40 cm - £2,200

Needless is a scene from the last night of my most recent trip to Malawi. Often referred to as ‘the warm heart of Africa’, I’ve made some of my dearest friends there. It’s a country of great beauty, where you find a strong sense of community and joy in life, in spite of the widespread poverty.

On the final night of the trip, I was working alongside a tailor. The tailor was making several garments and I was finishing a large tattoo of a baobab tree. Suddenly we were plunged into darkness as the power failed. You’d think this would be a disaster, but somehow the blackout made us both concentrate; blackouts are a regular feature of life in Malawi, and work must go on regardless.

Both the tattoo and the clothes turned out beautifully, and that night is emblazoned on my memory. The resulting painting shows ‘two people who earn their living with needles, practicing their craft in my tiny flat under improvised light sources’ says the recipient of the tattoo, Ashley Malpass, from the Malawi Peace Corps.

Poaching Patrol, Malawi

Poaching Patrol, Malawi by Leanne Rutte AROI: Oil, 45 x 55 cm - £2,300

Poaching Patrol features Reto, a Swiss man I met who wanted a sleeve tattoo depicting creatures that creep in the Malawian night. Reto works to protect elephants and other animals in the vast forest of Thuma from poachers and charcoal-burners.

Without the support of teams such as Reto’s, there would soon be no wildlife left in this region. It’s not just elephants that are in danger, antelope and warthogs are targets for poachers as well. But elephants have so much emotional intelligence that they visibly grieve for fallen family members in an incredibly distressing way.

Reto’s job is hard and often lonely, with little respite. There will always be new snares, new poachers, and new horrors to behold after a long night of searching the through the dark trees. Working with local communities instead of against them is vital.

Desert Corax, California

Desert Corax, California by Leanne Rutter AROI: Oil, 15 x 40 cm - £2,000

I fell in love in San Francisco, and we travelled to the desert together. I recall the sunset as the saturation seemed to seep out of the landscape into the glowing skies overhead. A single hare. The imperious sharp silhouettes of Joshua Trees. Clambering up vast boulders. I felt so utterly present and in awe of the spell-binding stillness and silence. We made art and gazed at the skies.

See more works from the Exhibition