To keep that summer feeling alive, the simplest solution is to purchase a print (or original!) Leah Giberson and hang it in your home to admire year-round. Lawn chairs, pools, airstream trailers and California homes are typical subject matter... but depicted in a not-so-typical way. Leah uses photographs as the base inspiration for her paintings, but with her use of graphic colours, shadows and composition she elevates the subjects into icons.
UPPERCASE featured Leah back in issue 6's Work-in-Progress Society pages.
Your subject matter is a nostalgic suburbia full of lush greens, manicured lawns and perfect skies. The scenes are idealized vignettes depicting manmade environments—the perfect house, a shiny Airstream trailer—yet the paintings are devoid of people. Your creative process, in which you paint over photographs, allows you to become an editor as well as an artist. What do you choose to exclude and why?
I paint over anything that feels unnecessary or distracting. This often includes neighboring homes, buildings, trees, and occasionally people. After simplifying the scene, I can focus on the parts that resonate with me like the looming shadows, tenuous connections of power lines or the reflected worlds visible in windows or on shiny surfaces. This process of distillation and embellishment is something we all do in our daily lives already. We highlight some moments, cover up others and either ignore or make assumptions about the rest in an attempt to find meaning in our experiences and reinforce our existing narratives. In short, we see what we want to see.
Why are you drawn to these particular scenes? What do they represent to you?
Suburbia has always been intriguing, yet foreign to me. I was raised by artists deep in the woods of New Hampshire in a cluttered old farmhouse full of art and all things handmade but we also had our share of painful struggle as a family. I learned about suburban life mostly from TV shows and on trips to visit my grandparents. From my limited and naïve perspective, I assumed the families in these homes felt safe, happy and at ease in their seemingly perfect worlds. I wanted that in my life too. As an adult I now realize that a flawlessly groomed lawn or manicured hedge does not guarantee any of those things, but I remain fascinated by these places and the disconnect between their fact and fiction.
How has posting work on Flickr been part of your development as an artist?
A couple years ago I started using Flickr on a daily basis when I was commissioned to make a large painting and wanted to post images of my progress for my client to see. Before I knew it, there were lots of other people leaving thoughtful comments and initiating some pretty interesting dialogues. I also discovered that I was reaching a MUCH larger and rapidly expanding audience than I ever had with my etsy shop, portfolio site or neglected blog. Flickr quickly became and has remained an integral part of my work flow and the site I update and check out more than any other.
In addition it has also led to a series of somewhat collaborative work. During the summer of 2008 I came across a photograph on Flickr that completely captivated me. Until that point I had only used my own photographs in my work, but I desperately wanted to make a painting based on this one. I contacted the photographer and asked for her permission. It turned out that she was thrilled with the idea and (I’m happy to say) with the results. Since then, I have completed at least 30 small paintings based on other people’s photographs and continue to look for new images out there that resonate with me. The photographers I’ve worked with thus far have been incredibly generous, enthusiastic and appreciative. It’s been a wonderfully positive and inspiring experience and has connected me with people and places from all around the world.