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 Donald Leeds  (1951 - )

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Lived/Active: Connecticut/New York      Known for: abstract landscape painting

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An example of work by Donald Leeds
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Donald Leeds was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1951.  He studied at the High School of Art & Design, the School of Visual Arts in New York, and the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts.  He lives in Weston, Connecticut.  Leeds is an abstract painter whose images are informed by the vocabulary of landscape.  In September 2005, he described his approach to painting:

“My current paintings were triggered one day by a familiar yet haunting feeling I had as I drove past a dense stand of trees through which a reservoir and the sky beyond were just visible in the spaces between tall black tree trunks.  It didn’t take long before I realized that the initial drawings that followed were leading me in a completely new direction.  Prior to this, almost all of the art I had made was from life, of people or objects.  But the feelings I got from creatively exploring this new path were powerful in a way I had never before experienced.

Rather than going outside to study various landscapes, I decided to recall the memories I had of moving through the landscapes of my past.  I tried to recall the feelings I had from being there, in the forests of my memories, the ones that had always remained fresh in my mind.  Long memory-filled hikes with my father in upstate New York when I was a child.  Getting lost on my own in the woods of Pennsylvania when I was a teenager and dreading my predicament as the sun began to set.  Or later in life when my hikes into the woods were an escape from my daily reality into a world much larger and more permanent than myself.  There were feelings in these places that transcended the image of landscape I typically thought of, especially when I imagined landscape within the confines of a canvas.  Deep spiritual feelings of darkness, space, and time.

In imagining these places I tried to understand what the visual elements were that created those feelings, for I knew it was not the details of what I saw when my eyes, camera-like, cropped the image into sharp focus.  Instead, I realized that it was some primitive response to the scale of the abstract shapes and rhythms and light surrounding me.  It was the space that I had become a part of and not the place that I saw that moved me.  After a significant amount of thinking, drawing and eventually painting, I understood that these feelings of space could best be expressed with a very deliberate landscape-based vocabulary primarily represented by simple geometric and linear elements in a space that was ambiguously both deep and flat.

I also decided that local color would be replaced with a monochromatic blue, further distancing the painting from a literal place while bathing the viewer in those short and magical moments of twilight when the solidity of the forest is made visually transient as the light of day steadily transition into the blackness of night.  Carefully woven together, these elements not only express the feelings I am trying to capture, they also naturally allow me to explore the fundamentals of abstract painting: the creation of space and movement within the confines of the canvas’s edge.

I initially thought this series would be short-lived, lasting perhaps a few weeks or months at the most.  But I was wrong.  I found that the simple act of creating these images was an escape from the real world that I desperately needed.  I could not have anticipated that the medium of my escape would be dealing with the self-imposed challenges of very strictly limited elements in a world of endless choices by exploring the depths of these landscape-based abstractions through a monochromatic lens that reinterprets space.

I began work on this series early in 2003, just after our invasion of Iraq.  The world we knew before 9/11 was gone and we were now not only surrounded by all the usual images from Madison Avenue, Hollywood, TV and video-games, but we were continually bombarded with the events and images of war, human suffering, national and global politics, and a new ever-present level of fear.

Working on and then surrounding myself with art that had no narrative, while I lived in a world that was literally being choked with rhetoric and chaos and fear, not only seemed like the right thing to pursue intellectually as a balance to the constant drumbeat of the cable news shows that I had become obsessed with, but more importantly it felt like where I most wanted to be.  In a very real sense it allowed me to leave the real world and retreat into an abstract space of my own making.  A space where meaning was replaced with the simple pleasure of enjoying how our eyes and mind quietly explore the space and rhythms and mood within a canvas’s edge.”

Submitted by Peter Falk, Art Researcher and Editor of Who Was Who in American Art

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