For their joint exhibit at Ellsworth Gallery, Amie LeGette and Courtney M. Leonard have created complementary bodies of work that, each in their own way, reflect artistic engagements with the organic world. In LeGette’s work, the engagement with the organic is tied more directly, albeit obliquely, to the human body. Her paintings touch abstractly on representationalism. It’s a style that’s implied rather than explicit, conjured through imagery evocative of organ-like appendages and atmospheric plains of color that are epidermal — not to mention titles that suggest landscapes. Mixed-media and ceramic artist Courtney Leonard’s focus is on the effects of overfishing and other environmental crises — juxtaposed with the traditional practices of the Shinnecock Indian Nation on Long Island. Her past works have dealt directly with the impact of the oil spills on marine life and threats to whale populations by examining what that means for humans — particularly, though not exclusively, indigenous peoples whose traditional lifeways are dependent on practices such as whaling and fishing.
Included in their exhibit, Nascent Atmospheres, are selections from several bodies of work by Leonard: Subsistence, Artifice, and, Abundance. The first and last depict handwoven basket forms in clay that suggest tools used for procuring food. Color is referenced in the titles, sometimes referring to environmental factors that impact fishing communities such as in her Subsistence (Red Tide). (Red Tide references naturally occurring concentrations of algae blooms, some of which have toxins that decimate fish populations.)
Paired with several of the basket sculptures are curvilinear objects that look as if they were drawn from the sea. These are all given the title Artifice but are differentiated by descriptive parenthetical subtitles, such as Cylinder and Ellipse. The word “artifice” is suggestive. It bears the same root as “art” in Latin. While the latter suggests craftsmanship, the former suggests deception and fakery. The Artifice sculptures are made using micaceous clay. There’s something raw, earthy, and organic about the material itself, as well as the seed-like shapes of the works in the series, but they are also objects of art, fashioned by a human hand, transformed from their natural state into symmetrical forms that convey an aesthetic allure. The woven basket-oriented forms of Leonard’s Subsistence and Abundance, as well as the micaceous ceramic sculptures of Artifice, are biotic, making visual reference to the living world even as they allude to human-made tools designed for a specific purpose among sea-dependent communities.