Leah Wong’s new body of work includes unique observations of people partaking of life activities within vibrantly colored landscapes and seascapes. Leah Wong’s new paintings and installation can be seen at the Sherrie Gallery, 694 N. High St., from Jan. 17 through Feb 28.
Local photographer and artist Barbara Vogel talks with Leah her perspectives and her new artistic direction.
Leah Wong working in her studio at Junctionview
“You have to work yourself into your art. It takes time to organize, struggle, and change direction.” Leah Wong
Barb: I truly enjoyed your last exhibit at the Sherrie Gallery, and this show seems to be equally exciting. The paintings in this current exhibit, which have been referred to as “Peoplescapes,” seem to represent a bold departure from your last work. How or why has your art changed or, perhaps more correctly, evolved?
Leah: With the “Peoplescapes,” I was motivated to communicate through my art the bustling everyday life activity that I witnessed in my recent Asian travels, to bring together again realism to the human figures and explore landscapes. In 2008, I resided in Taiwan for eight months. I again traveled to China in 2009 to document Chinese artists from the 1960s and 70s in collaboration with art history professors from The Ohio State University. A National Endowment of Humanities grant funded this project.
Ocean of Memory
Barb: How do these current paintings differ from your past narrative that has been referred to as “Creature Cutouts?” Although both are figurative and contain colorful swirling energy fields, how do these two bodies of work differ?
Leah: While the previous “Creature Cutouts” interacted with each other, the “Peoplescapes” are realistically painted people that are a part of groups united by a similar activity and dress. Within the group, each person is uniquely individual with little interaction existing among them. In some of my previous work, there was a story; the creatures were imaginary and playful.
In my new work, the people are “waiting” for the main event. They are arrested in an everyday life moment. These seascapes are drawn from people watching and from my memory of the ocean resort city of Qingdao where I grew up.
Barb: What is an Eastern perspective in painting and how is it shown in your work? In your vibrantly colored landscapes, there are many random groups, cultural symbols and icons, abstract marks and swirling energy fields existing within one picture plane.
Leah: You can see an Asian perspective in my landscapes and seascapes. This is commonly known as a “mist perspective” or “zigzag perspective.” It differs from the Western perspective, which employs a vanishing point and foreshortened figures, which creates an illusion of depth. My visual strategy keeps the picture plane filled with a realistic and abstract interplay.
Things I See (left) Another Season (right)
Barb: Certainly the placement of many different elements on the picture plane and interplay of the realistic and abstract contribute to your art’s ability to communicate with the viewer. Your “zigzag perspective” forces the viewer to continually look at you paintings. Your paintings are open-ended. Is this what you intended?
Leah: I never try to force people to draw conclusions, but rather ask them to stop, look at my work, and be patient.
Barb: Can you tell our readers a little about your background?
Leah: I received a B.F.A. from Zhejiang Fine Arts Academy, now the China Academy of Fine Arts, in Hangzhou, China in the 1980s. I was the only female accepted into the institution at the time. Since moving to the United States, I have received an M.F.A. in painting from Ohio University and have taken independent graduate studies in painting at Ohio State. I am currently an adjunct faculty member at the Columbus College of Art and Design.