Mark Leithauser (b. 1950)
Nightingale to a Toad (two works), 2005
Pencil on rag paper, 29 1/2 x 15 1/2 inches (framed)
Born in Michigan in 1950, Mark Leithauser devoted the early years of his career to the graphic arts, impressed with the engravings and etchings of Durer and Rembrandt. Often linked to surrealism, super realism, John Haberele and Jim Dine (in the same breath), Leithauser began to paint intensively in the early 1980s. Foremost a draftsman, Leithauser works with the precise technique of silverpoint. Once lines are executed by this method, they cannot be altered or corrected.
Leithauser’s work prompts the mind to wonder. The small scale of the paintings and the personal nature of the items engage the viewer to scrutinize and imagine the answer to the kaleidoscopic puzzle at hand. Words peek out of scattered, postmarked envelopes; antique tools and toys lean and topple over; and potted bulbs and firecrackers lie about in seemingly haphazard order.
Looking closer, we recognize mythical creatures and familiar images in unfamiliar places. Ingres’s famous paining “Grande Odalisque” is reduced to a postage stamp by Leithauser’s brush and inventive manipulations of scale confuse our senses as we try to make out the canvas within a canvas. As this conceptual and visual game unfolds, our imagination and creativity take flight.
From the time he traveled alone to Machu Picchu, Peru, as a teenager, through more recent trips in Europe and Japan as a deputy senior curator of Design at the National Gallery of Art, Leithauser has developed a storehouse of images and allusions. These autobiographical illusions become details for his compositions in the form of addresses
of home and travel, shells and rocks he has collected, his artist’s brushes, or horticulture from the Michigan woods, where his family has a cabin.
Firecrackers, alluding to the fragility of existence, crop up often in Leithauser’s vivid electric palette. Since childhood, he has been fascinated by the concept that anyone would invest time in decorating an object that would subsequently explode. Of course, the richly embellished, dazzling wrappers are his own invention.
Leithauser received a bachelor’s degree in the classics and two master’s degrees in fine arts from Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., where he taught studio art for two years. He has exhibited at Coe Kerr Gallery in New York, the Hom Gallery in Washington D.C., the Brooklyn Museum, the Detroit Institute of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Museum of American Art, and the Library of Congress among others. Leithauser has served as an artist - in - residence at the Speed Museum in Louisville, KY, and as a panelist for the Coalition of Washington Artists. He was also a member of the advisory board for the Art Barn in Washington DC. In addition he has published drawings for the Washington Post and designed numerous book cover illustrations.
Leithauser is the Senior Curator and Chief of Design for the National Gallery of Art , Washington, DC. He has been exclusively represented by Hollis Taggart Galleries in New York City for over ten years.
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