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Art Lecture Series: Leslie Shows

Leslie Shows' "Two Ways to Organize." (
Leslie Shows’ “Two Ways to Organize.” (

Danforth Lecture Hall was full Feb. 19 for the Art Lecture Series by Artist Leslie Shows. Mills students, faculty members and art enthusiasts gathered to hear Shows talk about the inspiration behind her pieces.

Shows’ art combines materials such as aluminum, plexiglass, ink, sand, and wood and sulfur in addition to painting and collage. Some of her collage work includes pictures from magazine cutouts, graphing paper, photographs and negative images.

Shows received a bachelor of fine arts at the San Francisco Art Institute, and a master’s in fine arts at the California College of the Arts.

Shows’ love of art started early in her life.

“I was into drawing from a really young age,” Shows said. “I liked to draw Cinderellas.”

Shows jumped at the chance to speak on campus after being invited by Mills art students.

“It’s nice to hear that the students are the ones who want you to come and do studio visits,” Shows said.

Shows' "Nitrogen Cycle/10 Reds," 2010, 120" x 75". (
Shows’ “Nitrogen Cycle/10 Reds,” 2010, 120″ x 75″. (

Second-year graduate student Gwynessa Balvanz is in charge of the student-run lecture series for the studio art department at Mills College. Balvanz said that Shows was a favorite among art students who voted.

“Each of the students entered a couple names of artists they were interested in and then we looked up all the names individually and ranked them,” Balvanz said. “We did a lot of focus on our local artists because we wanted to be supportive of the art scene here in the Bay Area.”

Shows is the seventh lecturer to talk at the student-run lecture series this year. Four more lecturers are anticipated to talk this semester.

Balvanz said that some of Shows’ art parallels the work seen from art students at Mills, especially her collage and abstract work based on organic forms.

Malena Lopez-Maggi, a first-year graduate student in the studio art program, came to support the lecture series and become more familiar with Shows’ work.

“I think her work is fantastic, but it’s a bummer to see it as a projection on a screen since it is so much about material and the conflicting dimensions of illusionistic space versus real space,” Lopez-Maggi said. “You just can’t get any sense of that from a flat image.”

Studio art major and Mills Alumna Lindsey Cady also agreed with Lopez-Maggi when it came to the importance of seeing art up close and in person.

“I did appreciate how she went through, in great detail, talking about the different materials that she used,” Cady said. “Some of her detail shots did give me a glimpse into what it might be like to look at it physically.”

Although unable to see the art physically, audience members liked hearing about the inspiration behind some of Shows’ pieces.

“It was also good to hear the conceptual component to the work and how she ties it all together, which might be different from just going in cold, and seeing it and trying to figure out what it was about,” Lopez-Maggi said.

Shows' "FES2 TO S," 2011, made of sulfur. (
Shows’ “FES2 TO S,” 2011, made of sulfur. (

As a painter and sculptor, Balvanz was interested in the textures found in Shows’ work.

“I was asking her questions about the depth versus the perceived [depth] in her work because I’m very interested in surface and texture in my paintings,” Balvanz said. “I really appreciated the way that she created this three-dimensional visual form with very flat objects.”

Balvanz found similarities between some of the work she does and some of the work Shows does.

“The combination of textures and the diversity of sources that she found the textures from is probably where I connected most with her work, and where I might get some things to bring into my own work,” Balvanz said.

Shows’ most recent exhibition opened this month and is featured at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Some of her work can be found in permanent collections at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and at the UC Berkeley Art Museum. 

If you would like to know more about Leslie Shows’ art, you can visit her website at