The Fine Art of Old School Femmes

As the last few hours of sunlight pour in through the windows at Baked Café, Lea-Ann McNally sits solo with a large mug clasped in her hands. After I profusely apologize for being tardy, she glances at me and admits she’s a bit nervous.

It’s not surprising. By the end of the week, the walls of that very café will be adorned with her artwork – marking the first time she’s ever shown it to the public.

“They’re basically old school tattoos that I’ve been inspired by and redone,” McNally says, as she piles a stack of framed images on the tabletop.

“It started through music, I guess. I was really interested in rockabilly, then I got interested in tattoos and started buying magazines and looking at all the stuff out there and getting inspired to draw them.”

Using pen, pencil and pencil crayons, McNally creates vibrant coloured images of 1950s pin-up-style buxom characters. Standing tall on exaggerated high heels, with ample hips and busts, the tantalizing femmes in her drawings capture the style of Sailor Jerry tattoos from decades past.

While some coyly glance over their shoulder with a come-hither stare, others in McNally’s work appear simply playful, merging the appeal of Marilyn Monroe with the embellished body structure of a super heroine.

“It’s a Halloween theme only because they’re kind of costumed,” she says of the exhibition, which hints at lady vampires and pirates.

“I think the drawings can run with that [theme]. And there are Spanish skulls, but it’s technically not really gory or anything like that.”

The skull drawings are a departure from gore and more so influenced once again by the blooming roses and gritty romance of old school tattooing. But the ladies are what McNally is lured to artistically.

“I really like dealing with drawing girls because you can change their hairstyle or colour … outfits, all that,” she says with a laugh.

“It kind of inspired me to want to play around with being more girly, I think. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I used to be a tomboy, but now I’ve found it’s really fun to be a girly-girl.”

From her bright red lipstick and vintage-style spectacles, to her impossibly perfect ’50s hairstyle and dark skinny jeans, McNally has indeed embodied the look of her muses.

And while her artistic style and personal appearance is a match made in vintage heaven, she’s far from a one-trick pony. Hailing from Montréal, McNally is currently postponing her studies in Intermedia/Cyberarts at Concordia University while she absorbs her new surroundings in the North.

Plus, she’s working on her photography, which she hopes to display in the near future.

“They’re basically black and white images and I paint colour in spots or just add more contrast to the image. And I do animations as well,” McNally explains. “I like to stay really broad. I don’t want to narrow myself down.”

Her brother, local musician Ryan McNally, invited her to Whitehorse about three or four months ago for a summer visit. But she says she’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

“I fell in love with the Yukon and I’m going to stay for the winter at least and see what happens. I think everything just sort of came together.”

When further describing her comfort in the territory, she alludes to a newfound romance, a steady job and of course the opportunity to show her artwork. After all, putting pencil to paper has been a constant since McNally was a young girl.

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, basically.”

Lea-Ann McNally’s exhibition of Halloween drawings will be on display at Baked Café until Nov. 5.

PHOTO: RICK MASSIE [email protected]

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