Today we meet artist LeeAnna Repass, Atlanta based artist who has had exhibitions throughout the Southeastern US, including a new exhibition coming to Charlotte’s very own Shain Gallery next year. I had the pleasure of talking to LeeAnna, and she shared an inside look into her artistic world where she can go from creating new large-scale work to helping one of her rescue goats give birth. Her ability to adapt to the natural world around her gives yet another unique perspective to the ever-shifting nature of the inspiration for her work, water. Every painting is completely unique, with highlights from sunlight shimmering off of the water, and the varied blues, greens, and browns of the artist’s palette.
When did you first become interested in the artistic world?
One of the saving graces of my childhood was being raised mostly by my paternal grandparents. Who were the first generation of my family to leave the coal mines near Pinnacle Holler, West Virginia. They ended up in Port Tampa with the Air Force, so I had the privilege of access to a public school for the arts in addition to absorbing the aspects of Appalachian culture, via my grandparents, that still inform my work and ways of thinking now. Their reverence for nature and interconnectedness is probably what has most informed my intellectual and artistic interests.
My grandfather had a natural ability to draw, and both grandparents loved listening to music to the point of it being a sort of spiritual habit.
I started drawing with my grandfather as soon as I could hold a crayon. -And my grandmother (still to this day) modeled perseverance and a strong will to question and learn.
I began training as a gymnast and dancer at a young age, and once I began studying at a magnet school for the arts, I began to integrate all 3. I never really considered being anything other than an artist after my time there, despite the odds being against me, class and resource-wise.
Your work is inspired by the water and the calm it creates in the viewer. What are some of the bodies of what that you’ve been the most inspired by?
It’s really more that I find water to be an infinitely shifting element that appeals to what I’m interested in. Repeated patterns in nature, and halted momentum all manifest in bodies of water, and in addition to meditating on color, luminosity and texture, water also lends itself very easily to exploring abstractions as I play with scale.
You create your work pastels, what drew you to this particular medium?
I think I was initially drawn to the tactile nature of the medium and that, unlike with painting, there is no instrument between myself and the surface. Instead of using a brush, drawing with a loose, dry pigment requires that my hands are what come into contact with the paper, and this becomes a very physical act, especially with the larger pieces. Like dance or acrobatic, this becomes a full-body meditation in addition to a visual one.
How long does it take to create one of your largest pieces?
It takes 300-500 hours for the largest scale works.
Tell me about a typical day in the studio.
Lots of music! Lots of coffee. I draw 8 hours a day, with breaks to pet my rescue goats and pit bulls.
When do you feel most inspired, when you’re creating a commissioned or non-commissioned piece?
They are both as interesting to me. Sometimes a commission helps narrow my focus, which can be helpful because left to my own I do spend a lot of time making choices to narrow down what kind of images and themes I’d like to work with because I have too many ideas for one lifetime.
So when I’m working on a commission it kind of catalyzes what I might settle on, and helps me focus on a particular idea.
How have you kept yourself inspired during the current times?
Being inspired has never been a problem. I have a backlog of hundreds and hundreds of ideas for pieces. So at this point, it’s more about finding the time to create new work, and even when I have 8 hours a day to myself to work, even then I feel like there’s not enough time for all of the different kinds of images and manifestations of water that I’d like to explore.
With things being less predictable and out of the norm right now, I’ve found myself taking the time to work on smaller projects aside from the water drawings to get some of my ideas out even if I only have a day to work on them.
The lack of knowing how many hours I will get to work has pushed me in an interesting direction as well, so I’m hoping that if things eventually return to normal I might have a new series of work that isn’t based on water alone and has been borne out of the smaller projects that I’ve been working on during this time.
Who are some of your fellow artists who inspire you?
Dolly Parton (American singer-songwriter)
Bell Hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins, but known by her pen name, is an American author, professor, feminist, and social activist.)
Wolfgang Laib (German artist-focused predominately on sculpture)
Lama Rod Owens (author and activist)
Tell me about what you’re working on right now…
I have a large tryptic that is actually oil on canvas, four pastels on paper that are to be shown together as one series. I don’t usually work this way, but with how COVID has been, I’ve gotten out of my norm. I’m usually very methodical and only work on one piece at a time, but for the past couple of years, I’ve been starting pieces and different series and working on more than one piece at a time.
I have a new show coming to the Shain (Gallery) next year and for the first time ever I basically have an entire show’s worth of work all in process right now.
I recently returned to painting (I started as a painter out of art school) and just returned to it in the last 3 or 4 years. So I’ve been working on the first really large series of paintings now.
The drawings are usually the ones that are my larger work, but now I’m working on the large tryptic oil on canvas and 8 or 9 paintings that are various stages in the painting process.
With a new show coming to the Shain next year, what’s the process of preparing for the show?
Sybil reached out to me about creating work to fill the gallery. So my studio is absolutely filled with work, and I’m very excited about the upcoming show, especially the large-scale paintings that will be featured in the show.
My process begins with having all sorts of ideas, I’m drinking too much coffee and sitting with my sketchbook and coming up with a thousand ideas and then having to spend three weeks trying to whittle it down to what will fit in the space and the timeline I’m working in because my work is so labor-intensive. It’s really about my hand on the paper making the work and just the time that it takes to create a new piece.
There are ups and downs in the process with the high point of having all sorts of ideas and then the lower point of knowing that you can only create so many of those ideas and then you just have the work, labor, and time. I’m always trying to figure out how to fit more work in.
What do you enjoy the most about preparing for a new show?
When I’m in my studio focused on the actual work that I actually kind of lose myself. Those are the days where I feel the most connected to what I’m doing and like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be.
Another thing I love is every time I have an opening I allow myself to buy a new antique dress. So I like that aspect as well.
What is the best part about attending one of your shows at the Shain?
Attending an opening is probably one of my favorite parts of the whole process of creating new work for a show because I get chance to talk to other humans about how the work affects them and to see the work outside of my studio and outside of myself and be able to interact with others regarding my work.
What do you enjoy the most about working with Sybil and the gallery girls at the Shain Gallery?
They have a real interest in the artist and the ideas behind their work, in addition to having a talent for placing work.
It’s great to work with a woman-run and owned gallery as well. Sybil is a great gallery owner and a genuinely kind and inspiring person.
“My work examines how shared patterning, vast fragility, intermediate states, and the effects of time come together to provide both comfort and a glance at hopelessness when faced with the intricacies of nature and our embodiment.
In my body of work focused on rendering water surfaces, I am interested in concepts of intermediate spaces as they relate to the experience of embodiment, wholeness in the face of entropy, and the relentlessness of time. These ideas are considered through scale and a focus on examining surfaces through a highly detailed approach, resulting in a kind of realism that reaches toward a sublime abstraction. In depicting these surfaces, derived from such brief yet intricate moments in time, I aim to emphasize the urgency of both reverence and the futile urge to adhere to passing moments. These representations of water in a state of halted momentum are also about an ache for stillness, or the desire to find a place outside of time and its effects. They are in part motivated by a reach for an infinitely unchanging home, that possibly existed before the experience of embodiment. I imagine that the Bardo-type state between shifts in trajectory is one that mirrors this place of hovering peace that one constantly reaches for while caught in the unstoppable narrative of ego and time. I try to give form to this sense of longing through devoting detailed visual articulation to a fleeting manifestation.”