David Leffel: Masterful Realism and Lasting Influence in Contemporary Art
David Leffel is a renowned American realist painter whose work has made a significant impact on the world of contemporary art. His paintings are characterized by their meticulous attention to detail, masterful use of light and shadow, and a deep sense of emotional resonance. In this critical analysis, we will explore some of the key elements and themes in David Leffel’s work and examine the reasons behind his lasting influence in the art world.
- Technical Mastery: One of the most striking aspects of David Leffel’s work is his unparalleled technical skill. His ability to capture the play of light on surfaces, the subtle nuances of color, and the textures of objects is nothing short of remarkable. His paintings often have a luminous quality, with light seeming to emanate from within the canvas. This technical prowess is a testament to his dedication to the craft of painting.
- Emotional Depth: While Leffel’s work is rooted in realism, it goes beyond mere representation. His paintings often convey a deep sense of emotion and mood. Whether it’s the contemplative expression on a subject’s face or the evocative use of light and shadow to create a sense of drama, Leffel’s work engages viewers on an emotional level. This ability to infuse emotion into his realist paintings sets him apart from many other contemporary artists.
- Narrative and Storytelling: Many of Leffel’s paintings tell a story or capture a moment in time. His ability to convey narrative through visual means is a testament to his storytelling skills. Each painting invites viewers to create their own narratives, to delve into the scene and imagine the circumstances surrounding it. This narrative quality adds depth and layers of meaning to his work.
- Influence of Old Masters: David Leffel’s work is heavily influenced by the Old Masters, particularly the Dutch and Flemish painters of the 17th century. He draws on their techniques and approaches to create a sense of timelessness in his work. This connection to art history is evident in his meticulous attention to detail and his use of classical composition.
- Evolution of Style: Over the course of his career, Leffel’s style has evolved, but he has always maintained a commitment to realism. He has explored various subject matters, from portraits to still lifes, landscapes to interiors. This willingness to adapt and experiment while staying true to his realist roots demonstrates his artistic versatility and growth.
- Legacy and Influence: David Leffel’s impact on the art world is undeniable. He has not only created a substantial body of work but has also taught and mentored many aspiring artists. His instructional books and workshops have inspired a new generation of realist painters who seek to emulate his technical skill and emotional depth.
In conclusion, David Leffel is a masterful realist painter whose work transcends mere representation to capture the essence of his subjects. His technical mastery, ability to convey emotion, and deep connection to art history make him a prominent figure in contemporary realism. His legacy as both an artist and a teacher ensures that his influence on the art world will continue for generations to come.
Born in Broklyn in 1931, the distinguished painter David A. Leffel spent eleven years of his childhood battling a bone disease in various hospitals. He used this time to hone his drawing abilities. This passion eventually led him to enroll in Parsons School of Design, as well as Fordham University. At the Art Students League of New York, he flourished under Frank Mason and ultimately taught there for 25 years. In 1992 Leffel and his partner, the distinguished painter Sherrie McGraw, moved to Taos, where their studios overlook the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Well-known to art students worldwide through his bestselling books and videos, Leffel conducts workshops throughout the country and recently launched his own annual awards program for excellence in painting.
Leffel is not at a loss for words when it comes to his philosophy of painting. He seeks to understand the process of painting in the way a theoretical physicist seeks to understand the universe. In fact, he does not paint people or fruit, but quarks and electrons, waves and particles. His objects only appear to be solid when you step back to where you can no longer see the motion. He calls this process of the artist seeking to comprehend nature “intelligence.” It is a key aspect of Leffel’s philosophy.
Leffel’s collectors respond strongly to the timeless, humane qualities in his work. In conversation with a collector, Leffel once mentioned how his paintings are about light and shadow. “Oh,” said the collector, “I thought they were about quiet.”
This connection between art and life is not limited to the attitudes of collectors: It is fundamental to Leffel’s philosophy. He asserts, “The more you invest in anything, the more you get out of it. That’s true in any area of life. That kind of attitude is always looking for a better solution: What’s stronger, what’s simpler? It requires insight to find a beautiful, consistent, structural unity. Like a good musical composition, everything dovetails, nothing is extraneous; everything functions for the good of the whole. It takes tremendous energy and commitment.
“When I first started painting I just thought it was something I’d like to do — and if I could make some money at it, then I didn’t have to get a job! As I went further into it, I needed confirmation that the things I was discovering in paint were true. I found that if it was true in painting, it was also true in life. Painting is like an interlocking set of relationships — color, edges, values, thick and thin, etc. Life is the same. Everything is interrelated. All of life is like one big, interlocking relationship. Everything you do has a consequence to everything else.”
His books in print are Self-Portraits: A Visual Journey of Insight (Bright Light Publishing, 2008); An Artist Teaches: Reflections on the Art of Painting (Bright Light Publishing,2004); and Oil Painting Secrets from a Master (with Linda Cateura, 1984, reprinted 1995).
(Excerpts from the article “David A Leffel: The Elegance of Paradox” by Rachel Wolf, Fine Art Conoisseur, October 2011)