In her new series of archival prints on display at Oriole9, Gay Leonhardt photographed the chairs, tables, paper coffee containers, light switches and other mundane details of the Woodstock restaurant, printed the photographs using archival inks and then drew gesticulating stick figures with charcoal right on the photos, positioning them appropriately in the restaurant setting. The brevity of Leonhardt’s drawing technique is matched by an extraordinary expressiveness, so that each seated or standing figure seems to be distilled to the essence of the shrug, questioning gaze, confidential aside, shriek of laughter or whatever.
They act like us, yet her figures are more humanoid than human. Indeed, the black scrawls, contrasted against the clean, antiseptic look of the photographs, as impersonal as a Madison Avenue ad, suggest coal dust or black smoke pouring out of a smokestack. They are impersonations of soot, animated cartoon characters – without the cuteness of a Jolly Green Giant or Pillsbury Doughboy. And from the perspective of the globe’s ecosystems, perhaps that is the essence of what we are: creatures of CO2 who appear harmless when hanging out in coffeeshops or otherwise chewing the fat, but whose innocence is ever more absurd as we inadvertently keep turning up the temperature.
It’s perhaps no accident that Leonhardt’s concern about global warming has led her to become a “lead ambassador” for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). After we chatted about her art, she talked about why climate change is the single most important issue of our time and why joining the EDF (or one of the three other national organizations lobbying for action) is a meaningful first step.
Her artwork at Oriole9 is supporting a different cause, however: Leonhardt is donating all sales proceeds to the Good Neighbor Food Pantry, located in Woodstock, which she said draws more than 1,000 people a week from the surrounding area. Each wall-mounted work is priced at $125, and a check would be written out to the food pantry, so that the buyer can get the tax deduction. Neither Oriole9 nor the curator of Oriole9’s art shows, Lenny Kislin, is taking a commission. The art will be on display over the next month.
Artwork by Gay Leonhardt, Monday-Sunday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Oriole9, 17 Tinker Street, Woodstock.