Leslie Neumann: Artist Statement
In 1990, I moved from New York City, population 8 million, to Aripeka, Florida, a small fishing village with 397 people on the Gulf of Mexico. My home and studio are surrounded by more than 14,000 acres of coastal wetlands. All of this beauty has inspired and influenced me as an artist. Every day I’m engaged by its raw, primitive energy.
I’m also a citizen activist, focused on land conservation along the coast in west central Florida. Thirty years ago, I helped found a land trust that protects environmentally sensitive land by placing it into public ownership. You can see our record of success from Google Earth photos just north of the Tampa Bay area. Large green swaths of land stand out in this densely developed state.
I’m a landscape painter, but what I end up with is hardly any commonplace landscape. Joanne Milani of the Sarasota Herald said, “Aripeka resident Leslie Neumann is dedicated to preserving Florida’s wetlands, but the wetlands are scarcely recognizable in her color-infused paintings. Instead, they become places inhabited by sorcerers, where swamp grass erupts in flames that appear to have been started by supernatural forces.”
Whereas my Wetlands paintings are full of close-up views of lush tropical environments, my new Transitions Series emphasizes a vast sky, filled with storm clouds. Often there is very little visible ground, which is symbolic of “nowhere to stand, no ground beneath our feet.” This series illustrates the disarming beauty of nature, and offers the “transition” from fearful states to serene states.
In my Cosmic Series, the journey is deep into the cosmos where’s there’s no attachment to land, and we’re free from time and gravity, floating with the stars and planets.
I paint with encaustic, which is hot beeswax, and it produces beautiful, rich surfaces. As you view my work from across the room, the illusion of deep space transports you into my paintings. What appears as a realistic scene when viewed from afar, quickly dissolves into abstraction as you approach the painting. I offer both the dreamy quality of an imaginary scene from one vantage point, and pure pleasure of color and texture from another vantage point.
Some artists are activists in their art – using their art as a form of protest, to point out injustices or society’s ills. But I’m an activist in my day-to-day life, not in my art. I leave the studio to speak on behalf of land conservation to people in government who have the power and the purse strings.
When I paint, it’s a different story. As Amanda Cooper, the Curator of Exhibitions at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, said to me, “I think this is what you were meant to do…make beautiful paintings that underscore the importance of the natural environment. Your happiness and contentment are contagious through your art work.”
Leslie is a self-employed, professional artist, with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from California College of Art and a Master’s degree in Fine Art from New York University.
After relocating from New York City to the Gulf of Mexico in Aripeka, Florida, more than three decades ago, Leslie discovered her love of nature and began painting scenes of the Wetlands and Cosmos inspired by her natural environment. She also became a committed citizen activist, working with others in her local community to preserve thousands of acres of pristine wilderness. She and her fellow land conservationists continue to negotiate with both private and public agencies, advocating for permanent, connected corridors and greenways.
Leslie has earned many professional credentials over the course of her career.
Her paintings have been featured in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions in museums, galleries, and not for profit venues in Florida, New York, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey, and California. In 2005, she was honored with a 15-year retrospective at the Vero Beach Art Museum.
Her art work has been purchased for more than 60 corporate collections, including Nissan Motors in Los Angeles, ADT Securities in New Jersey, Marriott, Carlton Ritz, and Hyatt hotels throughout the USA, All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, as well as 43 nationwide locations of Firebirds Grill Restaurants.
Leslie has been the recipient of prestigious grants and awards given by, among others, New York State Foundation for the Arts, Gottleib Foundation for Emergency Funding, and the State of Florida.
Her work can also be found in numerous Florida museum permanent collections, such as the Polk Museum of Art, Tampa Museum of Art, City of Tampa and City of Orlando’s Public Art Collections, and the Leepa Rattner Museum of Art.