New Redondo portrait artist aims for ‘geometry of the soul’
by Aimee Mandala
It’s a Tuesday night. Laura Leigh and I have agreed to meet at Georgia’s Cocktail Lounge in Redondo Beach. She arrives first— punctual and more familiar with the lack of parking than I.
I find her in a dimly lit corner with a pen in her right hand and a book of fiction in her left. She was sure to confirm with the server that this was the optimal location for a quiet chat. I show up ready for hugs, because, in full disclosure, Laura and I have known each other for a few years now and have had many enthusiastic conversations about art, motherhood, and the biz.
But this meeting is different, I’m here to learn more about her, what makes her tick, her process, and those gorgeous portraits of hers.
No stranger to a discerning brow or a poetically framed lip, Redondo Beach-based portrait artist Laura Leigh’s subjects often thrillingly teeter on opposingly heightened emotions. Where you find a commanding sense of strength, you will also witness an undeniable softness. Where there is fearlessness, surely it is threatened by the slightest tinge of trepidation. Where there is curiosity, you’ll find it matched with a cord of indifference.
Enchantingly feminine and quite possibly possessing the presence of heroines from another time, Leigh brings the viewer into a world where nothing else matters but the subjects themselves.
The bulk of her work utilizes alcohol inks on synthetic paper, which, much like her characters, is a medium that is often at the mercy of circumstance— storytelling at its best. Fast-drying, highly pigmented and best on a non-porous surface, alcohol inks are an ink of subtraction. Once the alcohol evaporates, only the dye is left behind.
When asked why she chose this medium, Leigh confessed that the pure & challenging nature of “taming the inks” was alluring to her, “It’s so fluid and magical,” she said.
Leigh, with no formal training, has managed to drop the jaws of most who discover that she’s only been painting for the last four years.
Sure, Leigh doodled as a kid. So much so, that her teachers often reprimanded her for not paying attention. But it wasn’t until 2019, in passing conversation with a friend, that she expressed craving more creativity in her life as her 8-year-old son was gaining more independence.
Her friend simply said, “Do what you loved as a kid,” and a spark was lit. From a young age Leigh noticed, “Kids thought you were important if you could draw, and that felt powerful.”
An introvert by nature, Leigh might be likened to that of a performer on stage— painting allowing her the freedom to take up space, to be loud, to own her deepest convictions.
When asked about her process, she says it starts with a face and a feeling. Working from reference photos from either models or internet finds, she explains that she often “Frankenstein’s” them, trading out hands or other elements to match what she wants to convey. She shares that oftentimes the hands in her works are even more telling than the subject’s eyes themselves and elates that its the tension in a composition that excites her.
An avid reader of poetry, fiction, science, and a listener of podcasts like that of Lex Fridman and a wide array of music, she appreciates the idea of long-form conversation in a time where society is so consumed by instant gratification. She believes, just like being on the precipice of a plot turn, the agitation, the push and pull of working through a rough patch is what brings her portraits to life.
“I like to see the skeletons,” she said, the layers of unhidden ‘mistakes’ oftentimes are left peeking through when a piece is declared complete.
And although she loves the freedom in working with inks, she can’t help but revel in the contrast and contradiction of reigning in the work with tedious patterns— mathematical meditations— that cloak her subjects.
Leigh said, “I want to capture the geometry of their soul.” And that she does.
Laura Leigh’s work can be found at the Last CA 101 exhibition at the Redondo Beach Historic Library located at 309 Esplanade, Redondo Beach, CA 90277. Open hours are this Saturday and Sunday Noon-7 P.M. with a closing reception September 10th, 6 P.M. to 7 P.M. You can also find Leigh’s work on Artsy through ShockBoxx Gallery in Hermosa Beach. Aimee Mandala is an Arts Writer, Artist and Curator based in the South Bay. ER