The Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery opened on Oct. 24 with 16 of artist Susan Leshnoff’s “SkyVisons.” Each acrylic on canvas represents something more than a just a beautiful sky. Through a spacious interplay of color, depth and ambiguous horizon lines, Leshnoff creates exactly what the title suggests: visions of the sky. “It has to do with looking at the sky and becoming visionary,” Leshnoff said. “They’re meant to be spiritual in concept and content.” A skywatcher since childhood, her intimacy with the sky is clear in her ability to transform it into something personal and meditative while retaining the universality inherent in any nature scene.
The spaciousness and opportunity for the viewer to create meaning within Leshnoff’s work could be due in part to her career as a professor of art. “I look at art from a scholarly point of view as well as a self-expressive one,” Leshnoff said.
Leshnoff earned her undergraduate degree in art history, but she’s taught all grades from K-12 in her career as a teacher. Additionally, she teaches studio art at Seton Hall University, instructing art teachers and advising the theses of graduate students.
She recently left her position as chair of the department of art, music and design at Seton Hall after 17 years of teaching a wide range of courses, including watercolor and 2-dimensional design. With all the administrative work that had to be done, Leshnoff stated that there was little time left for her to paint.
We can be thankful that she opened up this time for herself. Some paintings in the gallery like “Duskdawn,” with its temporal and spatial ambiguities, were completed just this year. Her work seems to create a hypnotic, perception-stretching effect. As Leshnoff said, they create “the opportunity for people to go off into a dream world.”
Of course, these effects are due to the artist’s rigorous artistic method and her breadth of knowledge. My favorite aspect of the paintings was the way they changed with distance, becoming more amazingly detailed and textured. She attributed this to the “couple of miles a day” she walks back and forth when painting.
Starting with particularly engaging photographs of the sky, Leshnoff described her process. “There’s a basic quality in the sky that I like to hold on to, but then I go off and it’s not representative of the photograph,” she said.
The process then becomes a spiritual experience in which she layers acrylic––a water- based medium she is comfortable with after teaching watercolor for so long––until the composition is harmonious without losing the visionary feeling and the sense of sky.
It may seem curious that in an exhibit inspired so heavily by the sun, the glowing orb itself never appears. This, however, avoids any possible distraction for the audience. “[I want to] make the eye span from left to right and beyond the dimensions of the canvas,” Leshnoff said.
Just as they are spiritual experiences for her to create, Leshnoff aims to make the experience of viewing the paintings spiritual as well. “A photograph might capture the sky in a frozen moment,” Leshnoff said. “But what I hope for in my paintings is that they are something people can live with for a while.”
“SkyVisions” will remain open at Lederer Gallery until Dec. 6.