March 2010 Issue
Drawn to Nature
Canfield artist Christopher Leeper portrays the beauty in the world around him.
From beneath a blanket of white, the damp, brown earth emerges, meeting the pale pink brilliance of an early spring day. It’s an occurrence that is nothing if not familiar — a trifle ordinary, even –– at this time of year. And, like the days themselves, it is fleeting –– gone all too soon as time retreats once again into the shadows of winter.
Indeed, melting snow in March is something many of us take for granted. But not Christopher Leeper. To him, it’s a sight that proves irresistible to recreate.
“There’s something, almost a compulsion, that drives me to capture a scene,” the Canfield artist says, “to put it on paper and be able to tell someone, ‘Look at this, this is amazing.’”
“Paintings and Illustrations by Christopher Leeper,” on exhibit at the Zanesville Museum of Art through April 17, brings visitors into the world of an artist who reveres the everyday beauty of Ohio’s great outdoors: from the majesty of an autumnal landscape and the quiet stillness of a snow-covered night to the scene in one of his recent works, fittingly titled “March Thaw.”
In addition to his paintings of al fresco Ohio, the exhibit features illustrations from the artist’s four children’s books - River Otter at Autumn Lane, published by the Smithsonian Institution; and Ema the Rhino, Norman the Lion and Jeshi the Gorilla, which Leeper created for the African Wildlife Foundation.
Using a variety of mediums, primarily watercolors and acrylics, Leeper is able to encapsulate a moment in nature that — depending on the scene — compels viewers to get outside and fill their lungs with the frigid air of winter or feel the sun on their backs. His is inspirational work that elevates every season and every hour of the day to a place that’s deemed worth capturing.
“He is the ideal artist; he lets the light emerge,” Zanesville Museum of Art director Susan Talbot-Stanaway says.
In fact, it’s the lightness of Leeper’s work that catches the eye. It’s from a shadow-strewn forest at twilight or the cheerful glow of early morning — times of day when the light rays are longer and more dramatic — where Leeper thrives, purposefully avoiding heaviness, both in the strokes of his paintbrush and in his message. The result: an artistic experience that’s truly refreshing.
“I hope that people are moved by my images, and I hope that they respond to the beauty that I respond to,” Leeper says. “After viewing the show, if someone sees something [in nature] that reminds them of my work, perhaps they’ll realize that what they’re seeing is a special thing.
“But,” he adds, “I’ve never felt that there needed to be a narrative or a social message in my work. I’ve never felt that art had to be perceived in that way.”
Leeper, who in addition to painting serves as the president of the Ohio Watercolor Society and teaches art at Youngstown State University, was raised on a farm in western Pennsylvania and moved to Ohio after receiving his bachelor of fine arts degree from YSU in 1988. He explains that his landscapes are “a continuation of sorts” from the work he created during his youth –– the time in which his outdoor inspiration was born.
“Both of my parents were bird-watchers,” Leeper says. “My family knew all about birds and animals and plants and trees, and this naturalist upbringing certainly impacted me, and still does today.
“I think of those days,” he adds, “when I’m working.”
Although Leeper does dabble in drawing figures, he always returns to the landscape images he loves most.
“It’s that one thing inside of me. It’s that spark,” he explains, hinting at a gut response to the beauty of the natural world.
The simple splendor that Leeper is trying to capture leads to imagery that’s understated, yet breathtaking.
“This subject matter is easy to approach. People enjoy and respond to these images,” Leeper says of his artistic success. “What I’m painting is something that is visually exciting and easy to digest. These are images that stop time so that you can just enjoy the moment.
“My paintings,” he adds, “are a nice place to go.”