Kathy Bonnema Leslie, a Colorado native, has maintained a studio in Montana since 1994. Her work has been exhibited in numerous one woman and group shows across the country. Selected juried exhibits include: The San Diego Watercolor Society International Exhibition, The Taos National Exhibit of American Watercolor, The Midwest Watercolor Society National Exhibition, and Watercolor West National Exhibition. In Montana, you can find Kathy’s work at both Altitude Gallery in Bozeman and her own gallery, ARTfusion, in Bigfork. For a complete list of her representing galleries check the Web site, www.kbonnemaleslie.com.
You have several quotes on your Web site, but the one by Jackson Pollack seems to resonate with your work. “Every good painter paints what he is.” What does that mean to you?
There is a certain honesty I strive for with my work. You can follow fads, you can try to cater to the art market, you can try to please the critics. There is pressure as a professional artist to do all these things, but they are bad choices. I see things a certain way, experience the visual world in a singular way, and my paintings and serigraphs are a response to that. It’s very personal, as one of a kind as we all are. I just try to act on that. If I try to fit another mold, or if my motives become misdirected then the work suffers. My work is a visual manifestation of my life experience. I am unique in that experience and I think my work reflects this.
You say you “prefer” to work in a “series.” Why is that aspect of your artistic approach important?
I feel that my paintings are often part of a story. A story about a favorite place, a story about clouds, even a story about a feeling. Every once in awhile a painting will happen that has some new element that pops up, and then a new series begins there. It’s a way to explore ideas more fully. It helps me look at the creative process from all directions and angles and it also pushes me, both conceptually and technically.
Your serigraphs are outstanding. Tell us how you create these pieces?
My serigraphs are done entirely by hand. I use a resist process to create a stencil. Then I use that stencil to apply one color by hand onto individual sheets of paper. Then I repeat the process for the next color and so on. Each color gets printed (screened) on 50 sheets of paper separately which creates a small edition of 50 pieces. The number of colors vary with each image but generally there are between 15-35 layers of hand-applied paint that complete the finished serigraph. It’s a nice mix to be both a painter and a printmaker. Printmaking is very physical, and painting has a tendency to be sedentary, so it holds my interest to work intensively in both mediums.
You have said that it is important to not only paint the subject, but “the air between myself and the subject.” What do you mean by this?
I am really drawn to pattern and color relationships. I use those elements not only to create something visual but also hopefully, a little bit of space and time. I want the viewer to feel connected, like I am connected to the image. Even though my images are not realistic, they are symbolic of realism. I want to create my own world on paper and invite you in.
Your work seems both light-hearted but profound in some inexplicable way. Accessible in that there seems to be something more. Are you sending a message through your art?
I don’t take myself too seriously, but on the flip side, I take my craft and artistic vision very seriously. I think my work has a very celebratory feel to it. A meditative quality, a sense of peacefulness because this is where I am at in my head when I paint or print. I know there are artists who go to their work to vent or explain or comment. I go to my work to “be”. I think what I am trying to say with my work is that life is beautiful.
Where is your artistic vision and work taking you today?
This is a good question because I never seem to know until I get there! It’s fun to look back and see the evolution, but I don’t always see things coming; they just seem to happen. I always have more ideas then I can get down on paper before I lose them. I’m always playing catch up, it seems. Someday I would like to go really big with a few images. I mean really BIG. If I had all the free time in the world I would also spend time exploring other mediums. I have this urge to try mosaics right now. I think that medium would be really exciting with my imagery.
Tell us about life outside your art and gallery. What in life do you enjoy most?
Producing art, being a gallery owner, and running my own personal art business means free time is a rare and magnificent thing. If I happen to have some, I spend it outdoors. There is nothing I like better than wandering in the woods all day long. My husband and I live an hour away from one of the most beautiful places on earth, Glacier National Park. If I can get there, I go.
More about serigraphs: Each color requires a separate screen and each screen is hand drawn. Paint is transferred through a fine mesh fabric onto paper. The areas that are not to be printed are blocked with impermeable substance and the ink is forced through the remaining "open areas." The printing is done with acrylic paint on museum quality 100% cotton rag paper. A printing can take from two weeks to over a month to complete, and when these small editions are finished the image can never be repeated.