Louis Stern Fine Arts
June 25 – August 6, 2011
In this new body of work painter Mark Leonard explores and celebrates the possibilities of abstraction. Variations on the grid as a primary language of modernism have inspired artists for the past century, from Piet Mondrian to Agnes Martin. In today's multifarious art world, where no single medium or genre dominates, painting continues to thrive in various modes: abstract, representational, epic, intimate. Painting remains vital, steeped in centuries-old traditions and conventions that continue to be reinvented. Leonard's practice is informed by deep knowledge and love of the past, at the same time inspired by a here-and-now engagement with the open invitation of the blank surface.
Intersections, Leonard’s premiere solo exhibition at Louis Stern Fine Arts, invites the viewer to look carefully and to be rewarded by the artist's rigorous exploration of light, color, and space. Trained as a restorer of paintings, Leonard perfected his craft (an alchemical blend of skills drawing on studio art, art history, and chemistry) in a distinguished career with notable posts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum. As a restorer, the hand must be sensitive, non-insistent, responsive to another’s muse and another time. Restorers are the medical doctors of the art world and practice a "do no harm" ethos. The best restorers--and Leonard was and remains world-renowned--are sensitive interpreters of the works they restore. The paintings conservator allows the hand of the artists to shine through, to sing again. It's the job of a maestro, requiring infinite control, patience, discipline, and study.
Now, liberated from the frame of his first profession, Leonard has returned to his first love: painting. It is at once a cerebral and a material pursuit, and the choice to paint in an abstract mode underscores the former. Many living artists, established and emerging (from Sean Scully to Tauba Auerbach) have created iconic abstract imagery to address the fundamental questions that painting poses. Leonard adds his voice to the current generation of abstract painters with his inventive use of “weaving” forms. In so doing he entices us with his illusionistic skill while at the same time insisting on the flatness of his richly colored surfaces.
Leonard’s subtle use of the motif evokes the rhythms of traditional crafts (sewing, basketry, textile weaving). In their intimate scale, jewel-like colors and exquisitely refined handling, Leonard’s paintings and related drawings invite the viewer into a poetic reverie. They are timeless, relevant; then, now; in, out; full, empty. In the visual language of metaphor and association, Leonard taps into the pulse of everyday life.
Leonard is keenly aware of his modernist predecessors, yet his heroes, his muses in this sustained abstract series are the Old Masters. When asked about which works that he had studied or restored particularly inform his practice, Leonard’s reply is telling: “The two photos that are pinned on to my studio wall are the Getty's Friedrich and the Norton Simon Zurbarán-- both of which have an iconic presence: frontal composition; atmospheric, mystical space; subtle, relief-like yet rhythmic movement; spiritual underpinnings - which I find particularly compelling. The meditative aspects of Zurbarán's work (which I wrote about when a student - focusing on sewing and meditation in the Cleveland picture and the Met's picture) is also important, both in the appearance of the final work and in the process of creation.”
Consider Leonard’s new works in relation to these masterworks by the early 19th-century German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich and the 17th-century Spanish Baroque painter, Francisco Zurbarán, with their patent spirituality and meditative quality. The living artist opens a window onto the past, while the past artists open new vistas on the work of a living artist. Leonard’s subject is timelessness itself, the zen of the always intertwined experiences of presence and absence, night and day, past and present.
--Charlotte N. Eyerman, Ph.D.
Art Historian and Curator, Los Angeles
Copyright ⓒ Mark W. Leonard 2010-2018