Leonard’s paintings are not traditional landscapes. She never paints in plein air; the paintings begin with a photograph and then are wholly composed in her Nashville studio. In the end, what has been abstracted from the photograph is as much a representation of the artist as the trees. “Her paintings have a leisurely quality to them that reflects the South—a comfortable, relaxed formalness,” says Jordan Ahlers, gallery director at Blue Spiral 1. Still, he says, “these works are not so much depictions of a particular site, but rather impressions we can all relate to; they tap into a collective memory.”
In addition to being acquired by the Tennessee State Museum, Leonard’s work has shown at galleries from Portland, Maine, to Sun Valley, Idaho, and in 2009, it was included in the book Speak for the Trees, alongside artists such as David Hockney and Mark Ryden. Her show in Asheville will display all new compositions, from small pieces on paper to big three-panel paintings that give a sense of being inside a stretch of woods.
Last year, Leonard began exploring subjects she hadn’t visited since college, using one hour a day to produce a single completed work: faces, nudes, objects, rooms. And she began to envision a day when her greater studio efforts would not only be about trees. But as she began work for the Asheville show, it seemed the trees had never been so full of secrets.
In her studio there is a filing cabinet drawer full of hundreds of tree photographs. “I’m going to paint every picture in that drawer,” she says, “and then I’ll be done.” Of course, she has already painted many of them twice. And just recently, bothered by the beauty of fog beyond her studio windows, she went out walking again with her camera.