Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Artist interview with Leslie Zemenek

Today's post is an interview with an artist from Victoria BC.

On the easel
Leslie's new studio

Leslie, to get started would you please describe your current studio and since
it's a newer studio you might discuss what plans you have for developing
it in the future.

After three moves in an 18 month period, I finally have a stable home
and with that a new studio. At 450 square feet, it also doubles as a
home office for other ventures. About 2/3 of the space is dedicated
studio. The room has built-in cabinets and a kitchenette with sink,
small fridge and even more cabinets. There's also a full bathroom. Just
outside the door is the laundry room, so I have plenty of sources of water.

When I moved in, all the walls in the home were painted a dull pink
beige, much like the color that used to be called "Flesh" in the 64
piece Crayola Crayons box. It sucked up all the light, so the first
thing I did was paint the studio walls a bright white. As I sit in the
room, I'm feeling a need for a little more color, so my next step will
be to paint the trim around the windows and doors a nice deep hue. I'm
still undecided as to color. There is a large picture window that looks
out on the garden. Since that wall has no room for hanging art, I plan
to do some painting and doodling directly on the wall. I also want to
stencil some of my favorite quotes funning along the wall just under the

Other necessary upgrades include better lighting and more electrical
outlets. I suspect that as I use the space I will discover other things
I can tweak to make it more efficient, comfortable and mine.

What is your favorite reaction that anyone has ever had to your work?

Although this rarely results in a sale, I'm always pleased when people
find it difficult to look at my work for more than a second. I'm not
talking about the "nice, but not my cup of tea" look. I'm talking about
a reaction of palpable discomfort. I believe art should evoke emotion.
Even though my subject matter is not particularly disturbing, it is
thought provoking and is likely to either evoke excitement or unease.
Whenever I see people who look anxiously away after a moment's glance at
my work, I know it's doing it's job.

What was the most deflating? What would you really like for people to
say about your art?
I'm pretty resilient when it comes to my work, I know it's not for
everyone, so I can't say I've ever felt deflated by anyone's reaction.
I'd say I'm more disappointed when people don't take the time to
actually "feel" or "experience" the work. It doesn't matter if they like
it or not, just that they take it in and allow it to speak to them,
positively or negatively. I'm unhappy that so many people seem to prefer
view art that is predictable, kind of like the visual equivalent of Muzak.

When you are working in your studio do you think about your audience
and their reaction to the work? And if yes, who do you imagine your
audience to be? 

When I'm in my studio I'm performing for an audience of one -- me!

If you could go anywhere-any country-for inspiration, where would you
go and why?

My list of places that I want to visit expands and changes constantly.
Right now that list includes Prague, Montreal, Greece, Morocco, and a
sail down the Nile.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Rather than choose a place, I am interested in living somewhere with a
particular kind of energy. When I find that place, I'll know it instantly.

Who are some artists who stir you soul and why? What is it,
specifically, about their work that draws you to it?

Like places on the globe, my list of artists whose work inspires me
grows and changes. One artist who has remained on my list since early
childhood is Marc Chagall. Maybe it's my Russian ancestry that connects
me to his work. But I think it's more than that. I love the mystery of
the stories told visually in his work, I love his colors and gestures.
His work never reminds me of the work of any other artist, and no other
artist's work reminds me of his.

Do you find titles to be integral to understanding a work of art?

I rant constantly about artists who call their works "Untitled" or even
"Untitled 206." I had a long discussion with a curator once who
explained to me the philosophy behind the lack of titles. Calling
something "Untitled," to me, indicates laziness or a lack of
imagination. If the artist felt strongly enough to communicate a vision
or idea in a visual manner, it shouldn't be a stretch to come up with a
title that expands upon that vision. A good title adds untold dimension
to the work.

Describe how you develop titles for your work.

The titles whisper themselves in my ear at some point during the
painting process, most often when I am about 2/3rd to 3/4ths of the way

Is an artist's statement really important or just something you do out
of obligation? What purpose does your statement serve?

Like a good title, I think an artist statement is another extremely
important way to communicate the artist's vision. I've heard some
artists argue that the art should speak for itself. Unfortunately I
think that in this age of YouTube, much of the general public isn't
"listening" on a soul level. A well crafted statement can help to spark
the dialogue between the observer and the art.

Does art serve a function beyond decorating walls?

A lot of art does just decorate walls. But that's not what I'm
interested in. Art should come from and speak to the soul.

Do you think artists are fundamentally different than other people? Why
or why not?

Yes and no. I believe everyone has the seed of an artist within, but
those who have cultivated that seed do approach life differently and
face different and more difficult challenges than those who don't. We
live in a world that values left brain processes. I can't prove it, but
my feeling is that this lopsided approach has caused a lot of the
world's problems. Artists and other right brain thinkers may very well
turn out to be tomorrow's superheroes.

Tell me about your favorite tools, type of paint, color palette or your
painting process.

I know a lot of people don't like them, but I keep my paints in a
Masterson Sta-Wet Palette. I am also lost without my spray bottle of
water. I actually don't mix a lot of color at once. If need be, I mix it
again. I don't mind if it isn't exactly the same as before, that adds to
the depth and richness of the paint.

My basic color palette consists of Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Permanent
Violet Dark, Payne's Gray, Pthalo Turquoise, Quinacridone Gold and
Cadmium Red Light. Instead of white I use a Liquitex color called
Parchment which is on the greenish side. I love it.

See more of Leslie's work here.

Thanks so much for answering my many, many questions. Later on, when you have your studio up and running I would love to post a photo or two. 

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