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Modest artist creates mystifying work

by Christian Bryant

Leigh Leatherwood’s repertoire of images ranges from a portrait of Kate Moss to an intricately layered black and white horned horse to a bouquet of elegant flowers. (courtesy image)

Leigh Leatherwood is an artist, but she says she doesn’t feel like one. Today, she’s a cook. Her new home is drenched in smells of Korean dishes, an influence derived from her mixed heritage. Her brother, Willie, who is a photographer ushers me into their home as Leigh intently watches her frying pan and then dumps several eggs onto the searing surface. She introduces herself without turning her sharp gaze away from the cackling stove. I look over her shoulder and she lightly prods the yellow goo with a spatula until a soft edible substance begins to form. She lifts then tilts the frying pan with Bobby Flay charisma and hurriedly walks over to where I am to reveal a flawless circular mass of well-cooked eggs.

“Look at it! It’s perfect,” she exclaims. “It looks like a crêpe!” She then plops her disheveled art portfolio beside me and begins preparing dishes with sesame seed speckled bulgogi, reddish kimchi, a green stack of dried seaweed, eggs and white rice. The portfolio consists of a sketchbook and a folder filled to the brim with original art pieces that range from a straightforward colored portrait of Kate Moss to an intricately layered black and white horned horse with feather-tipped spears in its back that is holding a bouquet of elegant flowers. Yet, she doesn’t feel like an artist.

Leigh Leatherwood’s unique body of artwork is the product of a hobby that only her family and friends know about. She describes some of her work as “tattooish,” but to try and compartmentalize her work would only make her upset.

“I’m an angry person,” Leatherwood says jokingly. “I don’t really hang out with a lot of other artists.”

Leatherwood and her family moved to Greensboro from Hampton, Va. in 1997. She’s a graduate of NC State University, with a degree in sociology, and a current graphic design student at GTCC that claims she’s been drawing ever since she can remember. During her childhood, it was an activity that her parents didn’t condone.

“I used to pull back the furniture and draw on the walls,” Leatherwood says. “I know I was a pain… My parents used to throw away my sketchbooks.”

I continue to leaf through her extensive portfolio and find what appear to be missing homework assignments from way back when. I flip them over to reveal ink sketches on the header and footer of each page. There are random faces and designs that seem to sprout like foliage all over the pages. Shapes flow into each other until her homework becomes a canvas of ink-poisoned veins.

What’s even more interesting is Leatherwood’s creative process.

She draws not knowing what will become of her next stroke with either pencil or pen. It all starts with a single shape. She lightly draws a shape and then continues adding on until a finished piece is birthed either hours or days later. Leatherwood shows me a colored drawings of an exotic bird perched on a tree branch. The beak of the bird is melting while the flourishes of green and yellow bring the winged creature to life. Surprisingly, Leather notes where she began drawing. She knows where all of them began, every single one.

“I don’t have anything in mind before I start [drawing],” Leatherwood explains. “My mind is just throwing up on paper.”

She even keeps the pieces she doesn’t like which are a considerable amount.

“Yeah, I keep all of it. I like to keep the ones I don’t like just to show progress.”

After a brief show and tell, Leatherwood regales me stories of her experiences in Korean church and how she loves mythology, the latter being a muse for a few of her drawings. Behind her art, which she calls her “children,” and her witty sarcasm is a young woman with very modest aspirations when it comes to her artistic talent and her ability to create versatile compositions.

“Maybe I’ll start doing more ‘Bob Timberlake’ pieces,” Leatherwood says while holding back a laugh. “I want to try sculpting and I want to make money. I don’t want to be famous for this. I just want to maintain a simple lifestyle and doodle. I just want to doodle.”

Leigh Leatherwood can be contacted via email at laleathe@ncsu.edu.

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