Words By Josue Ramirez
Fat cats, juicy glazes and sideways glances are some of the recurring topics in “Now & Then Leonardski Shows Up” by Chris Leonard on view at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum. The exhibition is an extensive survey of the artist’s work from the early 80’s until present. It provides a brightly colored, unrestrained view of the characters in his life, both real and imaginary.
“Just what am I making?” Leonard asks himself in the artist’s statement that greets the viewer into the museum. “The twenty-first century in America, there are so many choices! But are these choices always clear?” the artist proclaims. He takes us into a quick trip into his mind so as to set the stage for the characters he introduces and the “allusions to specific concerns and events” that push his “memory, imagination and observation into new areas.”
New areas of the imagination indeed. Many of the paintings feature larger than life creatures or domestic animals in striking colors and whimsical faces. Dog, Log, Hog, 2014, shows a black and white dog wearing a striped party hat. It stands on top of a log that rests on a menacingly grinning hog. A tall palm tree, a blue background and a diamond-tiled floor complete the painting. A pleasure to say and even more to see.
The exhibition is a cat lovers paradise. The painting, Fat Cat, 2006, shows a scene of a buff sunbathing, hand-crossed ginger cat. It is beautifully accented with a greenish underbelly, from having rolled around freshly trimmed grass. The painting references the responsibility of the home while highlighting the desire to rest and to care for oneself. Leonard captures the silly beauty of life between chores and work. Other references to family life include pieces that feature a past family dog, a blue painting of his son as a kid and some self portraits of the artist too.
Big skies and the background of suburbia are present throughout and in different views. From the individual house, to the neighborhood and even to the town. We get an untethered bird’s eye view of the artist’s perspective and concerns. The focus trails even further from the cotidian into the magical and surreal with fantastical creatures with baseball faces, beards, hats, and cigarettes taking over.
Leonardclaus for example is best described as a mixture of St. Nick and a cat. This recurring character often dons a red and white Santa cap and can be caught chain smoking here and there. Is it a conversation on American capitalism, on knowledge or on the different caps we wear in life? Only Leonardski will know. Intriguing, humorous- a little snarky and definitely not holding back on style or wit. The broad brushstrokes and the seemingly rough technique also translates to his ceramic work.
The vessels presented are deconstructed in style a la Peter Voulkos. The variation of the mark making, stamping and general surface treatment of his ceramic can be seen in the framed tile collage, Polarizing Pastorale: OH OH or HO HO? 2020, that spells out HO OH. Leonardclaus continues to show up in the clay pieces too as well as references to real people. The biggest ceramic pieces are Andy & Tim, 2003, two large heads modeled after his brothers. They face each other, staring at the patterns glazed on as if talking to one another saying, “What did Chris get us into now?”
There are many more works of art that are worth the trip to San Benito. If you know Leonard, which many do locally as he has instructed at UTRGV and currently teaches at South Texas Community College (I am lucky to be his student), the exhibition will not disappoint his persona. If you don’t know him then now is your time to catch up. “Now & Then Leonardski Shows Up” by Chris Leonard is a look into the mind and the last 38 years of the artist’s career and it’s a funky wild ride. The exhibition is on view at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum until August 19th with an artist talk scheduled for Thursday the 18th at 5:30 pm.
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