Leigh Hyams: Standing Among Ghosts

Each painting we make teaches us more about painting and more about what we DON’T know about painting. . . Occasionally we paint beyond our understanding and work comes out of us that’s different from anything we’ve done before. It may or may not be opening a door to a new way of working, but we must not automatically ‘judge’ it with the same set of parameters we’ve been using until then. Note its strangeness, its unfamiliarity and see what’s there to learn from it. We have to trust the creative process, knowing that with each drawing or painting we make with our whole hearts, our understanding of the richness and profundity of visual languge—non verbal language—will deepen. —Leigh Hyams, Attitudes

leighhyamsLeigh Hyams, Maya Pyramid, 2008,
charcoal and hibiscus on unstretched canvas, 84×55 inches
(Photo by the author)

In the pamphlet that accompanies Leigh Hyams’ new show —”The Ancient Presence” at Meridian Gallery (through 12/20/2008)—the painter admits that, while she found herself increasingly interested in Mayan history (as a result of having lived in Mexico over the past four years), she felt much trepidation in tackling the subject matter. Specifically, she questioned what she might have to say artistically about these city-sites that hadn’t already been said by other artists over the centuries.  Despite doubt, Hyams dove headlong into the project.

It is clear from the resulting paintings that the subject sunk deep hooks into Hyams. A pyramid may be the focal point of a painting, but it isn’t the point of the painting. These paintings testify to the energy that has been released in her, and which the paintings in turn release to us. It’s wholly different from the forces that conspired to produce her earlier work—the colorful flower paintings as an example.

leigh-hyams3 Leigh Hyams, Maya Sensor, 2008,
Charcoal and pastel on unstretched canvas
(©Meridian Gallery)

A turning point came for Hyams when she visited the remote site Yaxchilán along the Usumacinta River in Chiapas. It was an adventurous journey; the site is accessible pretty much only by boat. It’s not hard to imagine the cross-currents of emotion must have run through her onsite—astonishment at the majesty and sophistication of the pre-Columbian civilization; marvel at the scope of the work that uncovered these huge cities buried for centuries by the jungle; affection for the level of craftsmanship that produced the intricate embellishments;  awestruck by the connection to fellow human beings across the centuries.

Standing among ghosts is powerful.

leighhyams2Leigh Hyams, Mesopotamian Goddess 2000 BC,
pencil and watercolor on paper
(Courtesy of the artist)

On the second floor is a secondary exhibit of 20 or so watercolor sketches of Goddess statuettes Hyams has made over the years on her various travels.

Wider Connections

Interview with Hyams

Mayan Sites—A photographic tour

More Hyams—ijourney.org

One Response to “Leigh Hyams: Standing Among Ghosts”

  1. I love the last painting, it is fascinating !

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