Emily Leonard’s paintings rest somewhere between the categories of representational and abstract art. A landscape artist by subject, an expressive painter by technique, and rich colorist by tradition, Leonard creates work that is born from an assemblage of diverse styles and influences.
Blurring edges, smoothing boundaries, Leonard produces empty forests or lonely roads that seem to exist in a dreamlike space. Observers stand before her large canvases, captivated by the impression that they have seen her landscapes in their actual experience. The scenes appear like snapshots stolen from childhood memories. Viewers feel that they know these images already. They are both familiar and unfamiliar territory.
The artist herself has something of the same quality. Vivacious, passionate, she is a gregarious and friendly soul. On meeting Leonard, it is as if one has encountered an old friend. A smiling, warm, spirited individual, Leonard charges her work with the liveliness and brightness of her person.
Leonard makes her studio in a refurbished Quonset hut. A mass-produced pre-fab dinosaur of the WWII era, this corrugated-steel environment provides an industrial backdrop to Leonard’s organic design. She can be found pacing its spacious interior, struggling to get every element of her paintings to the point of perfection. In spite of the fact that her landscapes possess an immediacy of expression and an unstudied gestural approach, each one is the product of months of meticulous labor.
Borrowing her glazing technique from the celebrated traditions of the Dutch masters and the French Academy, Leonard layers hundreds of light washes and glazes on top of each other to achieve a translucent surface that evokes an illusion of spatial depth. Where painters of historical traditions executed glazing techniques over grisaille or black and white images, Leonard simply adds color over color in rich, intense relationships and configurations.
The scenes appear like snapshots stolen from childhood memories.
Leonard’s artistic roots go back to the golden age of American popular illustration. Her grandfather Thornton Utz painted cover illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post alongside iconic figures such as Norman Rockwell. A famed portrait artist and painter, Utz passed along his love of art and his work ethic to his young granddaughter.
It is Leonard’s commitment to work and rigorous schedule that allows her painting process to take flight. Entering the studio every morning for an hour and a half of work before breakfast, Leonard continues at a steady pace through the day on a rigid schedule to finish works that appear lively and spontaneous.
Her brushstrokes are rhythmic, broken, and energetic. They seem to have been created by a momentary, expressive, and immediate sweep of the paintbrush. Pastel oranges the tint of sorbet, quiet lavenders, intense ocean blues flicker and fade across Leonard’s canvases. Silent forest landscapes emerge and disappear from a scumbled region of white that hovers on the surface layer of the painting. The artist forges a lush and luminescent world in which she positions her viewers before a rich, albeit disorienting, visual experiment.
Leonard denies traditions of illusionistic art. She does not attempt to create photographic or realistic images of nature. Rather, she celebrates nature and the power of human memory. In the same way that her bright, effusive personality seems familiar even to strangers and new acquaintances, Leonard’s painting technique produces a visual vocabulary of elements that is universal to her audiences.
by Lou Chanatry
Leonard’s exhibit In Our Yard opens at The Rymer Gallery on November 21.