Monday, October 22, 2012

Conversation: Leslie Neumann

[My recorder ran out of battery power, so this is from memory...]

Leslie Neumann is a tall, fit, slender artist who lives in Aripeka, a small unincorporated community on the Gulf where Pasco and Hernando counties meet. Artist James Rosenquist has a home and studio there. Leslie's work has been reviewed on two occasions, once for a two-woman show at HCC Ybor, and another in a landmark show she curated and was in at the Morean Arts Center [Link]. Recently we met at Kahwa Cafe and talked. Her current show at Nuance Galleries St. Pete was opening that evening.

Born in Plainfield New Jersey into an open-minded, creative and supportive family, one that discussed books and made trips into NYC to art museums and Broadway plays. Her father was an amateur thespian. She went to Oakland's California College of Arts and Crafts for her BFA, returning to the East Coast to NYU Manhattan for her MFA. During all this time, both at home and in college, the question of earning a living never came up, but it did after graduation.

Outside of a six-year stint teaching at St. John's University in Queens, like most artists, Leslie had a variety of day jobs. Dreary phone work, pumping gas, being a messenger, dispatcher, and many others. The resourcefulness and adaptability these jobs brought out in her would pay off later. Throughout all this Leslie made art. She painted people, and tried repeatedly to get into galleries in Manhattan -- without success. Leslie did not stop painting or trying to get shows for fourteen years. She fell in love with and married James Rosenquist's assistant, which connected her to Aripeka where he has a studio. At first she made trips there, after getting married, she moved. In between, she managed to become a successful art print dealer.

One night at a party in Aripeka, she walked out on a dock under a starry sky and above the quiet waters and she had an epiphany about Nature. Leslie began painting the estuarine environment in a metaphysical way. Soon she secured a show in Tampa, and began selling work, with the first sale being made as it was being hung. This developed into a successful art career sans day job. She built a house on the water's edge in Aripeka and later divorced. Seeing Nature as sacred and realizing that it was imperiled in Aripeka, Leslie and like-minded citizens there joined the Trust for Public Land and have so far acquired seventeen thousand acres of land that are protected. Her commitment to protecting Florida, specifically where she lives is driven by the same energies as her art is.

Leslie's story is an inspiring one, a story of dealing with the realpolitik of immediate day-to-day issues in a very grounded way without losing sight of being an artist, persevering over long periods without shows or recognition. All the time being open minded enough to seize the moment when it presented itself.

Photo Courtesy of Leslie Neumann

Thanks to Leslie Neumann for an animated, inspiring and illuminating conversation at the Kahwa cafe.

--- Luis

PS. More on her work in the review of the show at Nuance Galleries in St. Pete to follow shortly.

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