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Cactus Imagery: Leslie Pontz posted: 4/2/2003
by Carolyn Lee Vehslage Printable Page
Category: Specialty Method: All Series: In the Studio
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Leslie Pontz Leslie remembers, "thinking how glorious the desert was with its grayed colors and hard shapes and soft sand and clear sky and prickly textures. There are so many contradictions in this quiet world of sand and lizards and seemingly endless highways. Yet, from the first moment I experienced this environment, it seemed so peaceful.

"From my first trip to the California desert some 20 years ago until this day, I have continued to be intrigued with the many variations found in the forms of cacti plants. These organic forms that are covered with spikey barbs provide many resources for my drawings. There is always something new to discover in these plants, and I never seem to tire of the search.

"In the beginning, I took lots of photos. As I began to draw from the photos, I realized that each photo was a small vignette of the larger scene that had prompted the picture taking. I needed to draw the larger scene that I could no longer see, but could clearly visualize. This realization also freed me to recreate the cactus mounds as I wanted to remember them, as opposed to how the photos remembered them for me.

Cactus Pieces

"I love to draw a whole clump of cactus. Then I take a part of that drawing and enlarge it, so that the subject matter becomes less critical and the shapes and texture become more important. Sometimes I do a series of drawings enlarging the same segment many times over. In the end the image is not always identifiable as cactus. It's like taking a close-up shot with a camera.

"I of course know that cacti have magnificent flowers in breath-taking colors. However, since it is the forms that intrigue me more than the colors, I tend to draw in graphite gray/black pencil. If I put any color into the drawing, it is as an afterthought and more for an element of design rather than an element of the cactus.

"When the drawings are completed, they become part of a larger fiber piece, woven into or suspended from the sheer fabrics and crocheted wire elements. When people ask me why there are so many different elements in each finished piece, I answer it's the way I see the world. It's that simple."


Cactus Encased

Leslie categorizes her artwork as fiber, but incorporates many art techniques and media. She uses drawings on paper, embellishment, and embroidery, crocheted wire, painting and printing.

Fascinated with sheer and semi sheer fabrics, Leslie overlays the fabrics effecting the light, the shadow, and color variation interplay among the fabrics. Sometimes she hand paints or hand prints the fabrics for additional dimension. Depending on where a particular piece is "taking her", she may weave the fabrics together or simply layered one on top of another, on top of a third. Her process creates new colors and depth just as oil paint or watercolor when the colors are glazed.

3d Enshrined

As she builds the layers, she stitches them together, sometime using a traditional quilting method, and other times using freer form of knotting. The decision of which method to use is based on what type of texture Leslie is looking for within the moment. Traditional quilting stitches are subtle both in texture and color. The knotting gives her a thicker, three-dimensional texture with a stronger color statement.

Highly rendered drawings of cactus, either intact or cut apart, are always used in some form in between the layers of fabric. The drawings are done with graphite pencils on arches cover weight paper. Occasionally she will use a colored pencil to augment the graphite. The pieces of drawings are usually found scattered within little envelopes made of the sheer fabric and then incorporated into the whole.

Desert Energy

Recently, Leslie has begun to incorporate crocheted wire into her artwork, layering it with the fabrics and drawings. She uses copper, brass or steel wire, crocheting them in a variety of different stitches. The weight and texture of the metal is an interesting juxtaposition against that of the delicate fabrics.

There is a lot of handwork in her fiber pieces, from quilting stitches to embroidery stitches to knot tying to crocheting. It is very hard to see all the subtleties in a slide, but Edward Sozanski, the art critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, reviewed that artwork as "haunting". His one word captures the essence of Leslie's artwork.

Artistic Statement:

Unlike most quilters who strive for a technical perfection, Leslie's goal is to utilize the techniques of quilting in a more casual way in order to create paintings made of fabric. In fact, many of her pieces have no resemblance to an art quilt when they are completed.

Desert Layers

The rawness of her finished artwork is an important and integral part of the artistic statement. It is a statement that stretches the boundaries of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts", of perfection and imperfection. It's about loosening up and accepting the imperfections in life through art.

Leslie finds it very invigorating to work without boundaries and rules. Working in this way gives her an energy that she believe transfers to the "canvas" as she overlays fabrics, weave drawings, cut and sew, and push the materials around until...Leslie says, "There is no such thing as a mistake, and that in it self is a wonderful freedom."

Her pieces are constructed of many layers of fabrics glazing each other, weaving back and forth resulting in a new fabric with its own textures, colors, lines, and dimension. Incorporated within the total piece are drawings and pieces of drawings of cactus. Each drawing is in itself an investigation of the shape, texture and movement of cactus woven into the movement, texture and shape of the whole. At times, one may also find crocheted wire, hand painted and hand printed fabrics, embellishment, quilting, and handmade paper integrated in the final tale. Leslie seeks the air of mystery that results from the play of these different elements.

2003 Carolyn Lee Vehslage

Desert Layers and Desert Energy are in the following exhibit:

Some of her other work will also be shown in the volunteer area at the

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