Luminous Landscapes The Art of Larry Leach
Each painting is a visual invitation to the viewer to explore the landscape. To take a solitary walk down a lane or along the beach or through a stand of trees. There are no other people around. The views are serene and silent. The most dramatic aspect of each landscape is the contrasting light. It is morning in some paintings; in some it is evening. There is golden light and white light; some dappled and some well-defined. Shadows play across the canvases as shade under trees or dark sand beneath sea grass. There is the appreciation of primeval nature, but as in a dream or a memory.
The images that evoke these feelings are created by internationally recognized artist Larry Leach who has spent a lifetime perfecting his technique. For the past 35 years, Leach has not only been creating memorable landscapes, he has been creating a specific technique for applying oil paints to canvas. Every step of the process has been well thought out and tested over time. There are three parts to all of his artwork: the creation, the process, and the appreciation of history. He works at art like an old master; always reimagining, always perfecting. The art is his life and his living.
Each morning Leach rises and heads to work at his 2,500 sq. ft. studio on the family farm in Hopeulikit, which takes up half of the space of the 5,000 square feet home he designed, built, and shares with his family: wife Sheila, and children Jasmine and Jackson. Leach also shares the studio space with Sheila, a textile artist and curator at the Averitt Center for the Arts. One whole wall of the artists’ space is covered in 12 feet tall windows which let in plenty of natural light from sun-up to sundown. Long white walls provide the perfect backdrop for canvases, or works in progress, much like displays in a gallery or museum.
The Leaches have been in Bulloch County since 1996, moving from Texas where Larry taught painting and drawing at Lamar University. Prior to that he was a tenured faculty member at Louisiana State University from the 1970s through the 1980s, and an artist in residence from 1972-1976. He attended college at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA, on a baseball scholarship, but wasn’t happy until he laid down the bat and picked up a paint brush. “I got off the baseball team, got my baccalaureate degree, then got drafted into the Vietnam War,” he said. After returning from the service, Larry completed a Masters of Painting at Northwestern.
In his early career, Larry preferred plain air painting, working outside surrounded by nature using acrylic paints and varnish. While on faculty at LSU, he stopped the plain air work and became more studio oriented. He began to work on scenes from memory; recognized scenery, but abstract. In the 1980s he switched to painting with oils and glazes. “With these paints I am able to add and subtract, add and subtract color to build a depth that appears translucent,” he said. Similar to the styles of Cezanne, Monet, and George Inness, Leach’s work is somewhere between abstraction and realism.
In Leach’s paintings, color is rendered in the impressionistic way, layered with a painterly quality. “My work is most like George Inness. Esthetically, I seek the same expression as Inness,” he said. Like Inness, Leach has also been influenced by early painters of the Hudson River School and the Barbizon School who created pastoral landscapes of early America. “But my work is not that romantic,” he said. “In the Hudson River School the paintings had three characteristics: they were romantic, they portrayed the American wilderness, and they were painted around the Civil War and created an outward perspective,” he stated. Leach’s paintings invite the viewer inward to explore the landscape along with him.
Like the Old Masters, Leach prefers to create his own canvases, stretching the material over the frame, gluing, applying gesso, and making the stretchers for canvases as big as six feet by eight feet or as small as 20” x 20.” The 20” x 20” paintings are usually placed four inches apart and grouped into a collective called Counterpoint. The grouping of canvases is meant to be seen as one work. Since his first museum exhibition in 1995 at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont, Leach has produced almost one thousand 20” x 20” paintings and sold as many as sixty at one time.
Leach left teaching to devote himself fulltime to creating. In the classroom, he began to feel the art was becoming too over intellectualized. “There are two sides to the brain, right and left; intellect and art. Say you’re a boxer and someone is throwing a punch, do you think about it? No, you have a reaction. Since the late 1980s, I have listened to my intuitive side a lot more, then looked at it intellectually, and broken it down.”
The paintings are not signed because he believes it violates the visual space. “To me it’s like saying, ‘Hope you’re enjoying this piece, my name is Beethoven,’” he said.
Although Leach paints scenes from his early life on a farm in Louisiana from memory, for inspiration he likes to surround himself with nature. He and wife Sheila have planted and tend an extensive flower and vegetable garden located behind the house. When he’s not painting, he is usually in the garden or walking around the farm.
In Leach’s research to find the best paint for his technique, he has become an expert on applying paints to canvas and is one of only seven outreach artists for Winsor &Newton, a leading supplier of artists’ materials, in North America. His territory is the southeastern United States. “Since 1998 I have been an outreach artist for Coal Art produced by Windsor & Newton, the largest art company in the world. Through this I visit painting departments across the South in the top 100 schools. I conduct workshops at the University of Georgia, SCAD, FSU, Vanderbilt, University of Tennessee, and University of Florida. Watercolor, acrylic, and oil paints. How oils and acrylics are made. How to mix color, color biases. Some paints are more mixing paints.” He has become one of the experts on technical problems with handling paint. His expertise in the art world has led to many connections with art schools and leading galleries throughout the country.
Leach’s work is on display at the Art Museum of Southwest Texas, Alexandria Museum of Art in Louisiana, and in various private collections in the U.S. and in Europe, including that of President George and Barbara Bush. He is currently in the studio preparing for a show of his work titled Luminous Landscapes which will be exhibited October 18, 2014 through January 5, 2015, at Florida Institute of Technology’s Foosaner Art Museum in Melbourne.