Leonard Piha's work is a great fit with The Arts Company. We pride ourselves on being the gallery that over the last 15 years has consistently presented artwork that is fresh, original, and contemporary. With Leonard's work, there is something more--a rare artistic vision, in the same spirit as our own Brother Mel. In both artists, their spiritual commitments are deep and personal--Brother Mel in Catholic traditions and Leonard in Jewish traditions. In each, their academic backgrounds are stellar--Brother Mel with a master's degree in art from the University of Notre Dame, and Leonard with an M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Neither of them has ever sought fame and fortune for themselves and their work. Both of them use unusual materials, and they both see themselves as builders, though they are trained in painting as well. They are each genuinely modest about their work, more interested in making the work than in what happens to it.
My first entry into Leonard's world was by fluke, not by plan. It was truly a dark and dreary (and cold) night when some friends and I finally found Leonard's complex of home, studio, gallery, and a large hillside yard full of sculpture of all sizes. Flashlights in hand, we spotted art on buildings and in trees, and on the walls inside various buildings, including his house. It can only be described as a magical evening. We knew we were seeing something we had not seen before. Returning the next morning in daylight confirmed the magic. We were surrounded by literally hundreds of pieces of art as yet unseen beyond the confines of his complex. We knew we were seeing an accomplished artist at work, a trained artist with an outsider aesthetic.
Upstairs at The Arts Company--the right venue
I can only hope that we do some justice to that experience in the way we present The Intimate World of Leonard Piha Upstairs at The Arts Company. We chose the upstairs galleries for his exhibition because it is expansive space that makes it possible to show the scope and scale of his work.
We hope you will walk through this exhibit and experience the thrill of discovery of a truly unusual body of work, all of it related through Leonard's series of icons gleaned from his personal life and Jewish traditions that are repeated in fresh and surprising ways, using fresh and surprising materials.
Discovering the outsider aesthetic
When Leonard began to study art, his first inclination was to draw rabbis, menorahs, and other Jewish symbols from his family traditions. One college professor steered him away from that and suggested he needed to learn to create art in the style and subject matter of his contemporaries. However, once he discovered outsider art and artists, he was attracted to their work, considering it more direct and profound in subject and form than what he had been doing. Inspired by the work of outsider artists, he began to rediscover his Jewish roots and began to create a new artistic alphabet for himself, both in subject matter and in his choice of rough materials. Equipped with his academic training, but this new passion, something new was bound to happen.
The result is distinctly intimate, engaging, original, and contemporary. "I love finding stuff and putting it together," says Leonard, "I'm always on guard, ready for some idea or some feeling--but I just do things that are important to me." The fact that he translates religious and personal themes into contemporary icons adds a universal dimension. See below his Mondrian's Torah, constructed from cardboard, painted with oil paint, as a sample.
Leonard and his wife Cyndy literally built their home together. Since then, he has continued to add various outbuildings such as a studio, gallery, garages, and a gazebo; and he has populated his hillside property with very large and very small sculpture of all kinds. He is an elementary art specialist in a nearby school, a satisfying way to pay his way as an artist. He likes best staying at home and building his work, whether sculpture or painting. He and his wife have two young sons, both of whom have recently completed assignments in Afghanistan.
If you love the adventure and discovery of what a good artist has to offer, come spend some time in the intimate world of Leonard Piha. His is not art as usual.
during the First Saturday Art Crawl
at The Arts Company
May 7, 2011, 6-9 pm