Known for manipulating the medium of painting by approaching oil paint as a sculptural material, often times scraping, folding, cutting, and building up the surface, Leslie Wayne’s artwork takes on three-dimensional forms with layers, varying textures, and colours.
The tactile, design-centric qualities of her work often evoke the experience of geology and natural phenomena, shaping the work in ways that accentuate movement and instability. A new show at Jack Shainman in New York, launching this month, will feature Leslie’s newest series of sculptural objects, which diverts quite dramatically from her previous work and employs tremendous technical painting skills to create a sense of optical illusion within the works.
What’s Inside will reveal a tectonic shift from the easy play with pictorial representation in Wayne’s previous bodies of work, introducing instead an all-embracing magnetic pull towards tromp l’oeil and verisimilitude.
In two distinct, yet related bodies of work depicting containers and windows, shaped panels in exaggerated and skewed perspectives determine the painted object. Door and window frames, armoires, closets and shelves are rendered through constructed panels and an abstract and three-dimensional handling of paint. With this practice, Wayne explores conventional representation and figure-ground relationships. What is illusion and what is, in fact, real becomes tensely blurred. The large scale of these paintings invites further questioning as one could envision stepping across the threshold and into their imagined interiors.
Though Wayne’s new work marks a departure in her practice, still there remains a continuity that, whether abstract or pictorial, has always explored portals to the other side.
Also presented within this exhibition is Wayne’s 1990 painting, Come In, an inverted doorknob and oil on panel work, indicative of motifs further probed by the artist to this day. This new series of paintings takes stock of the many iterations of this thread and comes back full circle to a world of images where abstraction holds a firm grip on ambiguity.
Wayne’s closets and containers are zones of refuge and comfort from the outside world; but they also contain the artist’s secrets and anxieties about the current state of political affairs: climate denial, nuclear proliferation, immigration, and ongoing institutionalised racism that point to a breakdown of the cultural and moral fabric of our society. Paintings of broken and boarded up windows, or those in which a sort of toxic ooze seeps through the blinds, serve as metaphors for this unease. Large-scale paintings of cabinets, closets and shelves can be seen from the point of view of a small child peering into a forbidden space or up towards something just out of reach. These paintings take on an almost German Expressionist perspective of an environment that is not quite right.
In the creation of this series, Wayne relied on process over planning. Her driving impetus often stemmed from the result of something unanticipated – an encounter with another work of art, a technical “mistake” in the studio, a word or passage in a book, or a deeply personal event – rather than a deliberate blueprint for a specific outcome.
These new paintings allow space for all those moments to coalesce into a body of work that looks both outward to the world and towards Wayne’s inner life. Wayne reflects, "Though these paintings represent my political anxiety, I am also not a bleak person by nature. So for me, the idea of a broken window is also an invitation for some sort of renewal. A window can be fixed, new histories can be made."