About 20 years ago, Wendy Beckett (AKA Sister Wendy) was busy bringing art history to the masses with her BBC shows and books. She’s not in the limelight these days but I still treasure my copy of her now out of print book from 1988, Contemporary Women Artists. Beckett was very frank in her introduction and said she chose these artists with no particular criteria other than she loved their work. Most of the women are British and unknown to me at the time, but I found Beckett’s selection closely aligned with my own aesthetic and a personally satisfying grouping.
One of the artists introduced to me through that small book is Edwina Leapman (born in 1934), and I been an admirer of her work ever since. She is currently featured in an exhibition at Annely Juda Gallery in London, and the catalog for the show reveals a beautiful new body of work.
Also included in the catalog is a transcript from a conversation between Leapman and writer Ian Hunt. The resonance I felt for how Leapman talked about her work and her process was instantaneous. Her comments about Van Gogh are the best portrayal of my own response to his work I’ve ever read.
Here’s a few samples:
[Leapman describes her first foray from representation to abstraction which took place while she was sketching a group of musicians playing chamber music.]
EL: I realised I was trying to paint the music, not the musicians. I had made a composition of figures, but it wasn’t what interested me. It’s not the same aspect of music that interests me now as it was then, not the same music that I’m trying to paint. Then it was linear, now it’s the sonority, is that word correct? The sonority of color, of tone, of area, of relationship.
IH: Sonority is a particularly important analogy from music?
EL: It’s the sound. It’s complex, it’s dark and deep. None of this is like transcribing one medium into another. Sonority is a word to describe a feeling that I would like to find, in painting as in music.
[Responding to a question about the influence of nature and landscape on her work.]
EL: I try not to make that too explicit. Because though I get inspired by it, I’m not painting that. It doesn’t come from there really. It’s more internal. But there are certain times of day, after dusk, when if you look at a tree and a leaf, you feel there’s something way back which is near enough…You feel you could almost touch things that are actually a long way away. It’s coming and going before you.
IH: It’s something absolutely specific that painting can give in a concentrated way, that experience of coming and going, of something being…
EL: …Held. It’s the holding. Do you know who’s my favourite artist now? Van Gogh. I don’t think he’s been properly appreciated. He’s so original and so intense. The colour is emotion compressed into paint, making the paint totally other than itself as well as being itself. It’s not just his colour but his intense energy. There’s not a weak bit of the painting. There are no null areas—it’s alive. It’s more alive than any other artist I can think of.
IH: You wrote once that your work had some function as analogous to a quiet place.
EL: That’s always been quoted and perhaps it’s slightly beside the point. The point is that the work should be still, but also alive. The point of vibration is the point between two poles. The poles are still but there’s an energetic force of meeting.
EL: Composers, they all walked, but in a very different way. In the Vienna woods, or wherever, walking just to walk, in an environment with no other people particularly. Silence or trees, natural sound. It is very rooting to walk and it’s necessary to be rooted and grounded, to just be. You need to be still. A really good pianist doesn’t just start playing. They sit and take a moment to compose themselves, wait a bit, take a breath. that’s complete focusing on the work. In a state of false arousal you don’t focus. It’s very necessary for one’s mental and physical health, not just for art.
(Both images are courtesy of Annely Juda Gallery)