Leslie Shellow was born in Washington DC in 1969 and currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland. She has exhibited in such venues as The Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, the Silber Art Gallery at Goucher College, the King Street Art Gallery at Montgomery College, the National Institute of Health and the Arlington Arts Center in Virginia.
In 2017, Leslie was selected as a Baker Artist Award Finalist and in 2015, a Sondheim Prize semifinalist. Her most recent solo exhibition was at the Julio Fine Arts Gallery at Loyola University of Maryland. Leslie was awarded the Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for Works on Paper in 2010, 2013 and 2016. She holds an MFA in Painting from Towson University, a BFA from The Maryland Institute College of Art and a BA in Education from the Evergreen State College. Her work consists of oil painting on panel, ink drawing on panel and paper, printmaking, bookmaking and installation. Pulling her imagery from observations of nature, both in the visible world and through microscopes, Leslie addresses natural processes such as growth, decay and regeneration. Mold, lichen, corral, cells, viruses and bacteria are among the many natural elements that influence her work.
She currently teaches Drawing at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
The natural world can be beautiful yet destructive, awe-inspiring yet heart-breaking, tender yet abrasive. Although humans have developed technologies and medicines to overcome the destructive powers of Nature and to harness its energy, we are often reminded of its omniscient force when we are faced with natural disasters or incurable disease. For me, Nature is a friendly presence, but I am also wary of its ability to surprise us with unpredictable behaviors. I respect its strength by never assuming that I know too much and by keeping my sense of individual power in check. The one thing that is predictable about Nature is that where there is an effect there is always a cause. All elements in nature are inextricably bound to one another.
Attraction, repulsion, contraction, expansion, growth, decay, beauty and ugliness are all aspects of Nature that are underscored in my work. These polarities function both internally (in the body) and externally (in the universe) in similar ways. Though these terms would tend to suggest both positive and negative forces working at odds with one another, every plant or animal, every weather pattern or atmospheric event, every bacteria or virus (whether it is nourishing or damaging to humans) follows its own programed behavioral path, and ultimately ends up living and dying just like we do.
Much of my free time is spent walking in the woods, along seashores and riverbeds intimately observing the movement of water, peering up at the sky, looking down at growing and dying organisms, and trying to understand the essential tendencies of Nature. Water, wind, clouds, rocks, moss, algae, insects, and birds – each of these has a pattern in life that is driven by different motivations, but each of these also lives within an ecosystem that inseparably binds them together. Imagine a flock of a thousand chimney swifts moving at the speed of a thousand racecars but diving so precisely into a chimney, one at a time, that they never crash into one another. How is this possible? Imagine sunrays beaming through a billowing black cloud formation just in time to cast a yellow light on the most vibrantly colored Japanese Red Maple in the neighborhood, but you are the only person to witness this magic. These are the experiences that influence my work. The essence of Nature is unmistakably within each of these observations.
When I sit down in the studio to create this work, I don't have a grand plan of how it is going to turn out. My responses to visual stimuli, described in the paragraph above, are what navigate me through the creation of multiple elements that will eventually go into my paintings or installations. I tend to be keenly in tune with my surroundings, which can be beneficial, yet overwhelming due to the expansive visual stimuli within the world. Regardless, this is what drives my desire to work slowly and methodically, meditatively building one small element on top of another. I set before me a challenging task that seems to have no defined endpoint. The deliberate process of meticulously drawing and cutting everything by hand allows for a more intimate examination of the materials, which in turn draws me closer to the subject. Also, the methodical pouring of thin layers of paint and the waiting for it to dry requires great patience and the opportunity for reflection.
The creation of the various elements in an installation may take months and sometimes years to complete, while the process of installing the piece itself is fluid, intuitive and is conceived on the spot. As I approach the gallery, there is little preconception of how the work will take shape. The landscape seems to grow of its own volition, each element responding to the one that came before.
I like to use recycled materials, such as phone books, wax, toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, old drawings, found paper, eggshells and dirt. Though I am not making a political statement on conservation, my consideration of materials is a personal choice and is reflective of my desire not to leave a heavy footprint on the earth with my art; I want my art to add awareness without adding clutter.
Moreover, I feel that it is important to use materials that have a long process, or history, behind them. That is, I consider the materials and their origins and the processes by which they become transformed into objects used in art. Basically, I am considering two separate but integral levels; there is the actual object and from where it came and then there is the transformation of the object into something new.
I believe if the work is successful it should compel the viewer to recognize himself/herself on a cellular level. Think of a mirror as a microscope: instead of seeing external features, you would see blood vessels, cells and neurons. Your subconscious would then begin to recognize that we are all made up of the same elements as every other living organism on earth.
I encourage you to come into the space and allow yourself to become enveloped in the environment. Do not feel that you have to step back from it and maintain a safe distance. I invite you to get close to the materials, to smell them, to view them from different angles, going as far as to lay on the floor and look up at the components from your back!
If you begin to notice things you might normally disregard or overlook, and are reminded of the invisible world that exists beneath the surface of our awareness, then I have succeeded.