THE FINE PRINT: How did you become interested in visual arts? Tell me more about your background and how your work has evolved over the years.
ROLLIN LEONARD: I have intended to be an artist since I was young. I went to art school in Cleveland then quit to study philosophy in Minneapolis instead because the reading lists would coordinate with what I was interested in. I moved out of New York City in 2011 to Maine where I felt isolated but met a lot of interesting artists online. Since then I’ve shown online, abroad, and all around North America. I’ve found a kind of niche of artists working with new material technologies and ways of being inspired by the digital and an unlocalized or networked culture. My first solo show was in ny at Transfer Gallery, a gallery that primarily curates solo shows from Internet-based artists. My work has lately been more physical and sculptural with some exceptions online such as a gif collage at cloaque.org. Currently, my second solo show “New Portraiture” is at xpo gallery in Paris traveling from Transfer in New York. The work is about translating digital effects into analog effects.
TFP: Could you tell me more about your creative process, specifically regarding your latest solo show ‘New Portraiture’?
RL: I don’t have much of a creative process. I just have a new idea and start. This forces me to begin with little experience or plan. There is always a lot of experimentation early on that nobody sees. Usually the goal is to make a photograph to record the materials or effects that I’m fussing with. With this work, the material I was playing with was water and the effect was refraction. The result was a kind of frozen liquid image made of resin and photography.
TFP: Where do you get your inspiration from? Could you extrapolate on your current exhibition?
RL: The original reference for the show was a twee stock photo of dew on a flower pedal. The water refracting flowers in the background was what I focused on. From there it was a long and evolving process where I found ways to distort objects into semi flat surfaces of liquid.
TFP: Photography is the starting point of your work, which then takes multiple final forms, from your GIFs for Cloaque, your ‘Isometric Sculptures’ series, to your watery distorted human faces for your ‘New Portraiture’. Which final medium is your favourite and how do you decide what the original photograph will become?
RL: The final product (sculpture, print, gif, or video) is almost always predetermined before I start taking pictures. My work is usually very well planned since the processes are often protracted. If I’m just fooling around or experimenting with materials I rarely actually come up with something. My favourite final object so far has been my resin-coated prints — water portraits. They’re most interesting to me because it marries flat optical effects with tangible objects in a way that’s completely unique. I’m working to expand the series.
TFP: The human body, in all its deconstructed forms, is at the centre of your work. Where does this fascination come from?
RL: There are a few angles. One is simply practical — the effects and distortions are the actual subject and the human face is just a baseline pattern. We know what a face looks like and have a particularly strong ability to recognize it as a pattern. When it gets distorted it holds up well. You know where eyes are in relation to mouths etc etc. The meaning from a materialist point of view might be that the body is the locus of perception and thought. With the current work I’m pouring humans into plastic forms. Seeing through a series of filters is how I make my work.
TFP: Considering photography is at the centre of your work, is there any other form of art, say more traditional, that you are contemplating on exploring in the future?
RL: My brother Tad and I are producing work right that are a series of small computers loaded with software that we’re producing. So given that there is a history of computer-based artwork you could describe it as a traditional medium. Also, I ordered a vinyl cutter last week so I’m probably going to make some work with that. I use traditional media mostly for planning and preparation. I have ink, paper, paint, markers, and coloured pencils that I use frequently but never produce anything beyond a sketch or a diagram.
TFP: Do you often collaborate with other artists, or do you keep it within the family?
RL: I don’t often collaborate except with my brother, however I usually have an intern or an assistant. Right now I’m working with a student from the local art school, MECA, named Alyssa Freitas. The way I’m approaching the internship is to give her as much control as I can. I give her specific goals but she does a lot of problem solving so it approaches a kind of collaboration. I wanted to treat the internship like having an outboard brain. Lucky for me she understands the work because it is similar to her own. I’ve come to the realization that I move forward faster when I have somebody to talk to. I don’t entirely form an opinion until I’ve shown somebody else what I’m doing.
Philippe Riss of Xpo Gallery curated my last solo show. He drastically cut pieces out of the show to present something much more precise than what I was proposing. This curatorial intervention was new for me and interesting. He arranged the work in such a way that it had a precise theme or story but didn’t distort my original intentions (at least of the stuff that remained in the show).