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Re-imagining landscapes with Leslie Shows

Danforth Lecture Hall was dim and just full enough to make Leslie Shows’ visit to Mills a success.The art lecture garnered a diverse group of individuals as people trekked from all over the Bay area.

Shows talked about her sulfur work and process at the lecture; FES2 TO S (2011) is one of the many sulfur sculptures on show. Images courtesy of Artist and Haines Gallery .

With only a few seats empty in the Lecture Hall, Shows began with a slideshow of her exhaustive compilation of landscape paintings, including pieces from her most recent show Split Array as well as intimate studio photos of her process.

Shows’ work is something that will shake you up with its rainbow color infusions juxtaposed with dripping mountainous landscapes. If you’re lucky enough, you might even catch her pop culture reference to the carbonized Han Solo in the corner of “View From the West of High-Viscosity Lithic Form, with Carbon Freeze” (2006).

An assemblage of her wide color palette and interesting choice of materials (including, sulfur, mylar, plexiglass, mica and more) along with her preference toward working in larger scales makes her your not-so-average landscape artist.

When thinking of landscape art, many make connections to literal and classical depictions of nature painted in oil. Despite preconceived notions of the aesthetics of landscapes, Shows explores beyond the planes of the boxed in ideals of landscape art and creates something wholly unexpected. She transforms landscape, which is often the backdrop or supplement to other forms, into the main character.

Geography and topography are readily explored throughout her body of work and it’s no surprise since Shows grew up in Juneau, Alaska and moved to San Francisco when she was 18. She received her BFA at California College of the Arts, San Francisco and her MFA at San Francisco Art Institute.

Shows discussed how influential it was to her work growing up in Alaska’s capital and the fact that her backyard was similar to that of an opulent glacial lake spread seen in National Geographic.

One of the many aluminium panels on show, Face K (2011) uses ink, acrylic, mylar, sand, canvas, plastic and engraving on aluminum.

Shows is soft-spoken but genuinely passionate, taking inspirations from her interests and fascinations, which range from a variety of subjects: flags, salt and Kafka’s short stories, just to name a few.

Her interest in a wide variety of materials recently led her to experiment with sulfur and to create the floor sculptures laid out carefully throughout the Haines gallery.

The audience got a glimpse of the photos Shows took during the process of creating her sulfur molds and the odd color process of the material itself, as well as a vivid description of the putrid smell of sulfur that lingered during the process.

Pyrite, more commonly known as fool’s gold, inspired her larger pieces in the show where she reconstructed and re-imagined the material on thin quarter-inch aluminum panels. Deeply invested and cleverly thought out, Shows’ Split Array continues to voice and inquire themes of geological and philosophical notions of materiality.

With her 45-minute lecture coming to an end, some of her larger resolution photos could not be processed on the screen, which she took advantage of by ever so smoothly plugging her show: “If you want to see this piece, you should go see the show.”

Haines Gallery (49 Geary Street Fifth Floor, San Francisco) will show Split Array until December 24.