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
"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.
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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