Wednesday, September 5, 2012

All the Crazies: Questions for Jonathan Leach

Virginia Billeaud Anderson

When I read the list of artists included in McClain Gallery’s exhibition, In Plain Sight, which opens on September 8, it took me about two seconds to contact Aaron Parazette, the exhibition’s curator, and ask what possessed him to combine such dissimilar artists.

There are forty artists in the exhibition, and what diversity of style. Who would expect to see a painting by Perry House, hanging near a painting by David McGee, hanging near a painting by Jonathan Leach?

A disheveled mix, it turns out, was precisely Parazette’s intention. His curatorial aim, McClain’s press release explained, was to “highlight an array of styles, genres, and media ranging from well-established artists to up-and-coming painters,” and, “encourage a much-needed discourse between the diverse painting practices occurring in Houston.” “In Plain Sight,” Parazette told me, “is a sample survey of Houston painting. It is intentionally non-thematic and multi-generational, and meant to represent a full range of Houston painting.”

Sample survey! Those are pretty words for wide curatorial rein, which is appealing. A “non-thematic” show is the right thing to offset art’s officiousness. Instead of the usual super-charged self seriousness, the show calls for , drinking McClain’s booze, and enjoying some paintings. Remember that celebratory feeling we had in 2005 when Gus Kopriva organized Still Crazy After All These Years at Lawndale, and how the weird mix simply made us happy? McClain’s show will probably feel like that. And unless the prices are ridiculous, will undoubtedly sell a ton of art.

In the spirit of Parazette’s much-needed discourse, I contacted McClain exhibiting artist Jonathan Leach to ask a few questions. Leach is a superb colorist, and reproductions rarely do his art justice. The reproduction below downright disrespects it, but it gives readers who won’t make it to McClain an opportunity to see Recent Resonations, the painting he plans to exhibit.

Jonathan Leach, Recent Resonations, 2012, Acrylic on canvas, 72” x 60"
VBA - Some of the artists showing in In Plain Sight are a big deal. How do you feel about being included with all those artists at McClain?

JL - As far as where I think I fit in to the Houston painting lexicon, towards the bottom, with all the crazies, where an artist is happiest. There are some awesome artists in this show, and I am truly honored to be a part of it.

VBA – Resonations! Jonathan, that title?

JL - I know - it's not a real word, but it should be.

VBA - That word is as misplaced as Revertical from 2009. But what a beautiful painting that was, insistently architectural with columnar forms painted in delicious colors.

You have attracted a bit of critical attention from Houston’s illustrious art writers and some from further away. They all make the brilliant observation that you take inspiration from the urban environment, its architecture, highways and signage. Douglas Britt, who saluted your 2009 solo exhibition at Gallery Sonja Roesch as “one of the most beautiful installations I've seen all year,” captured your aesthetic succinctly and somewhat poetically with, “Leach combines a keen eye for architecture and urban landscape with dazzling opticality, bold directional patterns and beyond-vibrant color, not to mention an acrobat's sense of balance.” Garland Fielder wrote your paintings were “complex and balanced well, no small feat when your pallet is a Technicolor barrage of pigment,” and linked you to the Bauhaus. Robert Boyd, who has covered you several times on this blog, correctly noted your interest in color patterns and space, as well as the art’s glancing back to early Modernism’s geometric abstraction and to minimalism. And then there was that high blown critic who used a few words I never heard of, and aligned you with Frank Stella, which must have been fun.

Tell me what’s new. Is there something new you want to talk about, anything you would like readers to know that has not been said?

JL - Recent Resonations evolved from the work I have been doing on plexiglass, from my understanding of rhythm and negative space, which I have been toying with in those more sculptural works.

I think my work has taken a turn since moving to this city. The colors are brighter, the work is bigger and plasticism has taken over my understanding of composition. Rather than drawing so directly from the cityscape, as I did a few years ago, the abstractions that I have been creating recently are of a theoretical nature. I actually think that has quite a bit to do with the innate sense of "anything goes" that saturates this city's psyche and ultimately it's urban planning.

I am getting into drawing a bit more, ever since the series I created for the Unit "What's In Store" show. I have even begun scratching into the plexiglass of my paintings and sculptures to add that element of drawing or mark-making to my work. It allows me to add restlessness to what is normally a rigid process.
If Leach injects “restlessness” into an otherwise static approach, it is for the purpose of eliciting an emotional response. He stated this in a 2009 radio interview when he spoke of his abstract works’ “emotional resonance.” Viewers can look forward to more painted plexi sculptural works, and more abstraction on canvas in the vein of Recent Resonations as the artist furthers his investigations into form and negative space. But don’t expect him to drop cityscape and architectural imagery. “I am excited about what I saw in Berlin this summer, I was very inspired by that city’s architecture. I am preparing for a solo show at Gallery Sonja Roesch in March 2013, and I can already tell that the work is becoming more sculptural, though painting is still very much a part of it.”

Jonathan Leach, Minutes Away, 2009, Acrylic on canvas, 70”x 80" 


1 comment:

  1. Thanks Virginia. Nice to see some pure painting time and again! I will definitely get to this show.