Signpost featured artist of the month:
Interacting with mind, heart, and memory
— KEIKO OHNUMA
“Life is too short for white walls!”
The website quip advertises her services in faux finish, or decorative
painting, on walls and other interior surfaces. But it could just
as easily be a motto for Meg Leonard, a landscape painter and pastel
artist whose every utterance oozes color—evocative, atmospheric,
suggestive, and exuberant color—after so many decades in which
she struggled to stay neatly within the lines.
Leonard, who moved to Placitas last year, is finally filling in
the sketch of her own destiny, a semi-secret, somewhat guilty desire
to break free of the walls of wife, mother, and nurse in the wintry
Midwest to live her summer art escapades year-round.
The fatal attraction began with a camping trip taken with a few
other nurses when she was still in her twenties. Nurses being in
such high demand, the women took three months off to camp out west—an
Ohio girl’s first venture past the Mississippi River. “That
first trip west was such a pivotal experience that I kept doing
it every year,” Leonard laughs, her eyes reflecting the sun
sinking below her Placitas patio wall.
Even after she married, moved to Wisconsin, and raised a family,
Leonard would leave her nursing job every summer to escape out west
and paint. She quickly turned to pastels, which are portable, quick,
and easy to use outdoors (where she still prefers to work), without
the need for carting along brushes or liquids.
New Mexico caught her eye in 1977. Like so many artists, Leonard
said, “I felt this was where I belonged,” and she determined
to live here someday. She came back often, either with friends or
by making friends, and eventually had stints of house sitting or
temporary work as a nurse. “I always met people who understood
why I wanted to be here so badly, and they made it easy for me,”
she says simply. All summer long, she would draw the land and sky.
“At home in winter, I would develop ideas that got started
out here,” she said. “The strongest work came not from
direct observation, but from memory. In the studio at night, I would
put on music and could remember—it would be more about color,
story, feeling. The work may not look narrative, but it’s
narrative to me.”
Leonard describes her work as “perceptionist,” meaning
that her landscapes strive less for faithful representation of how
something looks than for rendering how it interacts with the mind,
heart, and memory. “I want to portray the essential color
relationships and minimize the superfluous detail, to facilitate
more of an imaginative response to my work,” she says.
Though she credits an early talent for “close observation”
for bringing her to both art and nursing, what Leonard observes
in nature is not visible to most people except by her hand. Violet-blue
hills tinged scarlet by the setting sun sink into an aquamarine
sky. The Rio Grande cuts a deep crimson scar across the earth blackened
by night under a shower of stars. The pieces that catch someone’s
breath, she says, give her the greatest thrill—whether or
not the memory evoked matches her original intention.
In 2004, Leonard bought her Placitas home overlooking both the
Sandias and the sweeping vistas to the west; she paints in a small
skylit room downstairs, having recently returned to the more deliberate
medium of oil on canvas. Though she left nursing four years ago
to practice faux finish painting in Atlanta, it took three more
years of closing out her lives back east to make the move to New
Mexico permanent last March.
“There are so many talented people here [in Placitas], it’s
really a privilege to be part of this community that supports artists,”
she notes especially of the Placitas Studio Tour and its web page.
Leonard’s work is featured at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort,
where she is also represented at the Galleria Tamaya, as well as
at the Dartmouth Street Gallery in Albuquerque.
Her decorative painting work encompasses everything from faux crocodile
to cracked plaster effect to embossed or stenciled patterns and
hand-painted murals—obviously a source of challenging fun.
“Artists have the best job in the world,” Leonard writes
on her website at web.mac.com/megleonard. “We can change a
space with our strokes, add life and energy to places that need
humanizing. Our higher purpose derives from the inherent sensitivity
to serve as social and environmental barometers, hopefully creating
to evoke a response in others, a stirring of their soul, awakening
The completed portrait of Meg Leonard, in other words, was to be
outdoors, in vibrant color.