“Art has always been the focus of my life. As such art, like life, is a process. Just as our lives unfold in unique and beautiful ways, so do my paintings. They have their own unique and individual expression. The process is like a circle, without beginning or end.”
James Leonard was born in Nashville in 1949, where he was raised until his term serving in Vietnam began. Once relieved of active duty, he studied social work at the Fresno State University, and upon graduation started working with developmentally disabled adults, often using museum visits as part of the therapy. In the early 1990s, James became a full-time professional artist to foster his passion for visual communication.
James Leonard has emerged as one of California’s leading abstract expressionist painters as a resident of the San Francisco Bay area. The influence of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism is apparent in his approach to colour, texture, and movement, though he has also been drawn to the early expressionists of the 1930s and 40s. In particular, James has been likened to the German artist Gerhard Richter in terms of his style, approach, and directness. In his studio, James participates in a collaborative dialogic process between himself and that which become his lush and vibrant paintings. It is his hope that the viewer can enter into a dialogue with his art to find a truth within themselves and their individual place in the world. He rejects the idea of creating art in any deterministic way, instead harnessing the essence of creativity as he sees it to listen and allow for his mindly dictations to take a backseat for new modes of visual language to emerge through the paints. As viewers of James’ art participate with the formation of their final vision of the piece, Leonard acts as a guide or a translator through his use of bold horizontal and vertical lines as well as his strong, if untraditional, colour palette. Ultimately it is the collective states of time, space, and parties that transform the flat painting to an introspective visual language upon each viewing.
Leonard’s emotionally charged paintings often appear purely abstract upon first glance but out of his gestures emerge such embedded figures, objects and landscapes. James has made advancements to the techniques that is the foundation of his art. Working in a thick impasto, he has abandoned the paintbrush, the de facto tool of the medium, in favour of an extended palette knife. His paintings, which can have as many as 30-40 layers each, are excavated with the palette knives in his “sgraffito” technique to expose the base colours that hide beneath the surface of the final layers. Exposed, the emergent colours reveal the history of the painting and show that the underpaintings are not gone just because the painting had been added to. The commentary in his art is thus a reflection of our own personal and collective histories and how our pasts do not abandon but enhance our lives each day.
James Leonard’s work has been included in solo and group exhibitions worldwide, as well as having been honoured at multiple juried exhibitions throughout the United States. Having always been a humanitarian, he has extended his artistic career to the philanthropic by donating art throughout California, the United States, as well as to the Canadian Cancer Society in Vancouver, BC. Numerous private and corporate collections feature his work, including NASA, Motorola, Lifoka Greafische in Holland, and Sky Across Tokyo, Japan.