“The act of describing artist Virginia Leonard’s ceramic sculptures is a scramble for adjectives. A word grab for soundbites that might go some of the distance to illustrate the sensation of the work’s form and surface. Words come quickly – visceral, precarious, bodily, blobbily – none of them quite get the job done. It’s no criticism to say Leonard’s work is full on. Full colour, full texture, full noise. To look at her abstracted hand-built sculptures, you have to first decide where you are going to begin looking. Vessel-ish in form with no natural end or beginning. We can register the visual language of pottery – a pot, a vase, a plate – but we can’t be sure there’s a right or wrong way to the orientation in which we might see it.” – Kim Paton
Originally trained as a painter, Virginia Leonard shifted her practice to focus on ceramics in 2013. The transition to clay was informed by a serious motorcycle accident while in London in 1986 which resulted in a long hospitalisation and the enduring experience of living with chronic pain. Leonard’s work over the last five years charts her development of a material language to communicate the vocabulary of a hurt or healing body.
Leonard writes, ‘My works are self-portraits that address my bodily scarring and chronic pain. Chronic pain has no biological value…it lacks both language and voice. The language of my clay making is my attempt to rid my body of trauma and reduce my level of chronic pain.’
Her large-scale ceramic forms are the unwieldy cousins of household vessels, vases or urns – featuring handles and openings, gaping mouths and empty interiors. A quotidian familiarity in these shapes subtly reminds us that chronic pain is a daily grind, continuous and affecting in all aspects of everyday life. Leonard has harnessed her own bodily trauma as a work horse; mining the personal experience of suffering to produce physical objects that seduce, surprise and mesmerise viewers. Installed on Objectspace’s courtyard plinth, All I Want is a Face Lift stands over one metre tall, the largest single work ever made by Leonard. Supported by a stainless steel cantilevered plinth – its gleaming geometry evokes the sterile, hard-edged efficiency of an operating theatre, while precariously balancing the work in space.
Born in 1965, in Auckland, New Zealand, Virginia Leonard graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts from Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design in 2001. Her work has been exhibited extensively internationally, recent exhibitions include: Collective Design fair, Mindy Solomon Gallery, New York, 2018; Sydney Contemporary, Carriageworks, 2017; and Artgèneve, with Taste Contemporary, Geneva, 2018. She won the Merit Award at the Portage Ceramic Awards, Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, Auckland 2015; and was the recipient of the Ceramic residency at Guldagergaard, Denmark in 2017. Leonard is represented by Mindy Solomon Gallery, Miami, Taste Contemporary, Geneva Switzerland, and PAULNACHE gallery, in Gisborne New Zealand.