Leonard spent his early years in the vast prairie of Wyoming, sketching wildlife and selling them to his school friends for a dollar. With its extreme environments and beautiful landscapes, the state has deep cultural ties to the grit and grandeur of the American West. It’s these early roots that are reflected in the attitudes and personalities of his paintings.
He earned his BA in fine art from Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio. Upon graduation, he quit his job, moved to LA, and began his career selling his artwork on the ultra-competitive boardwalk of Venice Beach, CA. His reputation and popularity grew fast and Gabe held a series of sell-out shows, aided by the acquisition of his work by high profile collectors including Quentin Tarantino, Ruben Fleischer and Charlie Sheen. Leonard has become one of the most sought-after artists in the world.
In an interview with METANOIA MAGAZINE, he describes his influences, “There is certainly a lot of history in Wyoming that has inspired a number of paintings. But I think my experience with the environment rather than any particular people I knew has helped contribute to my understanding and expression of the characters in my paintings. I grew up in a tiny town of less than 200 people. I spent a lot of time catching snakes and lizards in the summer and lived through a number of blizzards and long winters. Now that I’m grown up I look back at that and imagine not having electricity or air conditioning or any real civilization that was closer than 3 or 4 days by horse. Pile on top of that hostile natives and other settlers who may not have your best interests at heart. I think you would have to have a very strong mental fortitude on top of a physical toughness to be in that place and time.”
There’s a very tangible, cinematic look and feel to Leonard’s signature compositions. They can instantaneously transport you into an opulent world, rich with unrivaled ambiances and loaded to the brim with narrative intrigue. At first glance, your typical Leonard painting invites you to learn just what stories lie beneath these multifaceted characters staring back out of the paintings at you.
In describing his style, Leonard says, “I look for something to learn about and try to find a way to connect and understand it. He is not really interested in, “just a guy shooting a gun with a cowboy hat on. I want to know why he is doing what he’s doing and what his motivations are in context to his circumstances and the time he’s living in.” He further explains, “On the technical side of making a painting I like to find new or better ways of doing something. I don’t want to do the same poses or same costume or slight variations over and over. I try not to worry about making mistakes or changing something when it needs to be changed compositionally or otherwise.”
Leonard’s style is deeply rooted in the European artistic tradition, drawing particularly on the work of his heroes such as Rembrandt, Alphonse, Mucha, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. The signature techniques of his oil paintings incorporate expressive runs and drips with figurative and landscape painting traditions. Continuously utilizing experimental approaches, Gabe captures rich moods and atmosphere in a style saturated with emotion. With the framing of a seasoned Hollywood cinematographer his subjects seem to come alive with dynamic energy, mystery, and narrative intrigue, resulting in paintings that are as timeless as they are entertaining.
THE CINEMATIC ARTIST
Gabe has a unique ability to create a moment in time for his characters and let the viewer determine how they got there and what will happen next. Leonard says, “I tend to put them in a transitional moment. I don’t always make it obvious if something has already happened or about to happen. The perception of violence is almost always up to the viewer. With the exception of a couple of paintings, I don’t show people getting shot or hurt, although there’s an implication that someone or something either just got it or is about to.”
When asked if he intends to only show part of the story, Leonard replied, “There are a number of ways people see and interpret some of the paintings. I leave plenty up to the viewers imagination. If I showed everything in the painting it would leave the viewer with nothing for them to figure out or interpret. In my mind that makes for a boring painting. It’s like seeing the monster in a movie, it’s not really scary anymore once you know what it is. Jaws was really scary to me as a kid and I think it’s because you never really saw the shark. The open ended aspect of the paintings also allow the viewers to see themselves in the role of the character if they choose. Most importantly, I think it’s important for people to find a way to personally connect to the art.”
Gabe brings the viewer into a world rich with cinematic atmosphere and narrative intrigue. Attracted to the rugged and romantic elements of film noir, he merges technically brilliant figurative painting with a finely crafted ambience. Therefore creating a freeze frame full of narrative possibilities. He captures the richness of the mood by combining the free brushwork of an expressive artist with the lighting and framing of a seasoned Hollywood director.
In his own words, “I think as an artist you always want to outdo yourself and improve over previous work. However, I don’t think that any one painting will ever fully express everything I have to say. I tend to say a lot of stuff and it tends to shift directions on a constant basis. I think the overall body of work is probably more important to me than any one particular painting. The artists who go crazy are likely the ones that take themselves too seriously or put too much pressure on themselves to make the ultimate expression. I try to make sure that the making of art is always fun. The thing I hope to gain out of my art is a life well lived. I’m working on it.”
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