Visiting artist displays captivating works in the Wriston Gallery

Kirsten Rusinak

Have you ever seen a painting so abstract that you could not help but become one with it? Just to view one of the paintings by Leslie Vansen, who was the featured artist and lecturer at last Friday’s opening at the Wriston Art Center, you find yourself completely invading the painting’s space — walking back and forth, trying to peer into her intense networks of lines and layers.
Flat acrylic on 60-by-60-inch canvas was never so exhilarating.
It wasn’t easy, however. Vansen completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Iowa and her master’s degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She currently teaches drawing and painting at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where our own gallery curator and history of photography professor, Frank Lewis, came to know Vansen and admire her work.
Introducing Vansen at the opening, Lewis explained that when he taught a class of first year art history students at UW-Milwaukee that included many of Vansen’s former students, he was surprised at how knowledgeable each of the students seemed. The students snidely remarked that Lewis ought to enroll in one of Vansen’s courses.
Before beginning her presentation, Vansen explained that she would present the paintings she made in the years 1992-2007 in chronological order so that she could show the audience her artistic process of recommitting to ideas and techniques that she employed in earlier paintings.
As a result, the last painting she showed incorporated all the details of the previous paintings into one intense composition.
She found her inspiration in a film depicting a battle scene at night, which caused her to contemplate “how much color was in black in white.”
As a result, her most characteristic techniques involved layering paintings, composing monochromatic lines on the top layer, and peeling off pieces of tape from the bottom layer, causing the previous paintings to show through in bright bursts of color.
Integrating all these techniques into one painting takes an artist anywhere from fifteen to eighteen months to finish. Some days, said Vansen, “I spend the entire time at studio painting one or two lines.Things stay similar for a long time, but exploration creates a new form.”
Each piece renders comparisons: change and repetition, close and far, obvious and hidden, singular and plural, being and becoming, fast and slow, dark and light.
The galleries are open to the public 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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