Thursday, October 13, 2016

Laura-Leigh Palmer, Painter & Photographer, Tells Her Story

Trying to understand the world is what I am always trying to do through my many interests and activities. The most successful means I have found for myself is through my 2d art creation, something I have been doing all my life according to my family. I personally don’t remember drawing the neighbor’s cat when I was 4 years old and then the owner coming to ask me for the picture the next day since the cat had died during the night. I have been told that I said she could have it for a $1.00 which she did give me. My Grandfather was not pleased. 

Perhaps equating art with money might have spurred my initial enthusiasm. I don’t know but I must admit that it isn’t the main reason for my creative urge. Sales are nice and help make for a less cluttered personal environment and for myself, once I create something, I am not very concerned with keeping it. Unless of course I think it needs to be done again or explored further. Some of my work is realistic, and some incorporates imaginative subject matter, and other work is about local-events.

What interests me is showing the world to people like they have never seen it before. I am interested in the storytelling potential of art. Once something is created, it is interpreted by the viewer, perhaps not in the way I meant it but the viewer's story might be far more interesting than my own. 

Linking up with others and their input multiplies the power of the piece and drives me to show my work. I want to hear their ideas, which I have discovered are far more forthcoming if they don’t know I am the artist. This is not difficult since I don’t have a “style” although my sense of humor sometimes does come through. I don’t think having a style is a bad thing, it is just not something I have considered for myself. 

What interests me is deciding what is the best way to get my idea across. Is it a detailed ink sketch, a photo composed of 33 images, an acrylic impressionistic look? I spend a lot of time planning work, perhaps to the point where I fear procrastination creeps in, fear that this great idea is not going to live up to its potential in corporeal form. But once I actually decide to get it done, the actual creation usually takes very little time. 

There are exceptions. I am currently painting one of my friends in a parody piece reflecting Renoir’s Boating Party. This is a painting that I wanted to do for over two decades. First I decided to copy the Boating Party, a painting that is responsible for me first falling in love with Washington DC. Many years I ago I visited DC as part of a group of young visiting artists from high school's from all over the country.  We had two weeks at a college in Virginia with trips to various sites, saw plays at the Kennedy Center, which had just opened, saw GodSpell at Ford’s theater, met the Director of the National Gallery, ate Chinese food and had a visit to the Philips. It was there that I walked into a room and almost fell into the Boating Party and I was awed that a city could have so many beautiful things and also be so clean. 

I grew up in West Virginia and Pennsylvania with coal mines and steel mills so having people in Washington DC talk about air pollution was very confusing since it wasn’t something I could see. At home we would hang out laundry and it would turn gray. Here in Washington DC snow stayed white and melted in a couple of days. No one here knew what wall paper cleaner was and museums for the most part were free! What a magical place. To this day I go as close to my birthday as possible and visit my painting. It was rather difficult when the museum was remodeling and the Boating Party was on loan throughout the country. That year I whined so much the people at the gift shop gave me a print. 

But let’s get back to the issue at hand.  It was that print that made me think that perhaps I should make a copy for myself. So I bought a canvas and decided to make it two third's time the original since I didn’t have wall space to accommodate the actual size. I gridded my print and my canvas and sketched it out in pencil and that is where the project stalled for 19 years. 

My boyfriend at the time (and now my ex) had a fit every time I started to work on the actual painting. To this day I do not know why but just ended up putting it away for years. However, I believe that stopping projects can hamper and nag at us. However, I did talk about my idea and take photos of it to friends to the point that they would laugh and say that they doubted I would ever do the project. 

When the MAA started a gallery in Westfield Wheaton in Kensington, Maryland, I dragged the canvas out of the closet, worked on it and eventually finished the copy of the Boating Party after 90+ hours total painting during my gallery shifts of 4 to 8 hours. I titled it: "Amazing what you can get done after a Divorce".  

I did the piece in acrylics which was far more challenging than I wanted to tackle when painting the friends so I switched to water-based oils. What fun this has turned out to be! They dry faster but not so fast that they cannot be pushed around and mix with the colors around them. I had used them in the '70s and I believe they are much improved. The most fun is that the colors are what I expect when they mix, which is not something I have been found to be true with my use of acrylics. Everyone in the painting needed to be alive and all of us are getting older. I am sad to report that my dog Toby has died but he will remain on the canvas since he is the favorite of many. It wasn’t until the painting was over half done that I finally had all the reference sketches and photographs I needed. 

The painting is at my house and perhaps I can finish it before the end of October. This is my birthday month and I treat my birthday as my new year and try to finish things up to make room for new ideas and new projects. And this is definitely something that needs finishing. 

I have several other long term projects. I am fascinated at how we each perceive time. And when we start time. When do you celebrate the New Year? I already said that I consider my birthday in October (the 5th) as mine. But over centuries and even in our own time many people celebrate at different times and attach many meanings to the event. I believe that all we own is what we do without time so it’s passing needs to be recorded and remembered.

I am working on a series of images for the Chinese New Year's 60-year cycle as well as a book about New Year's in different cultures and times. Another long-term project is a chart about culinary herbs. I would like to create a series of charts on various foods and how to use them. Over the years I have become more interested in actually using photography to describe my world. 

I only have vision in one eye so I do not see in 3d (3d movies have no interest for me and create terrible headaches) and have discovered that taking panoramic images and combining them can create an image that is more real than real since all parts of an image are in focus. This effect is more pronounced for people that see with both eyes - or so they have told me and I can only take their word for it. This was something I attempted to do before the advent of digital tools and I must admit that I am far happier with them than without them. Besides the expense going way down, the images are a lot more compelling. I also recently started working with optical illusions and am exploring different concepts.

So in summation or perhaps in conclusion, I create from a compulsion within - from something beyond my level of daily thought. J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, 

     “One writes a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, not by 
     means of botany and soil science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of 
     the leaf mold of the mind; out of all that has been thought or seen or read that
     has long been forgotten descending into the deeps." 

Perhaps it is just as well it took over 20 years to do a painting of my friends tucked into an imaginary environment! I love to picture them at a party laughing and talking and eating. 

This is Week 40 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Laura-Leigh's story today. To connect with her and see more of her work, please visit the following links: