Dene Leigh: Within The Field Of Abstraction

Art Verge, June 16, 2021

Can you tell us about the process of making your work? 

I produce paintings, drawings and sculptures: each medium informs one another during the production in the studio and within my exhibitions. The drawings and sculptures are made from found aged materials. These materials are then constantly manipulated and rendered to obscure or change their information and to decontextualize their initial qualities and perceived identity. Through this process, which can take from as little as a few days or as long as a few years, I distort and dismember the appearance and history of the material, while leaving a trace of the material untouched. These constant alterations of each object gives them new form and meaning, playing with the history of the object and the concept of memory. The paintings comprise of recorded interpretations of my sculptures and drawings. The paintings also incorporate interpretations of photographs of family members and interpretations of found photographs, which I juxtapose with fictitious imagery to delve into my own memory. 


How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Decayed, Obscured, Memories.


Speaking about your new artworks, is there any particular story behind the “Within the field of Abstraction” that you could share with us?

My painting ‘Within The Field Of Abstraction’ displays a range of imagery that focuses on making faces difficult to see or recognize. This can be seen in the portrait on the stamp obscured by its own creases, alongside the blurred faces of the two tourists standing by the sculpture within the square photograph for instance. This displays my ongoing fascination with my grandfather’s inability to recognize formerly familiar faces (including mine) after his stroke induced neurological impairments. 

In the square-shaped old-fashioned photograph, the two blurry-faced tourists stand by a large public artwork, a commission of sort. This sculptural piece is decorated with repetition of triangles on a brown weathered surface, typical of one of my drawings. The sculpture resembles that of my own work and was fictitiously painted within the composition as a last minute choice. The intention was to manipulate the physical memories of that photograph by inserting my own artwork. Placing my contemporary practice into a much earlier image also solidifies a sense of permanence and acceptance of my art into a historical context.

The horizontal lines of grouting that the two tourists stand on leads us in the same direction as the blue checker lines on the paper. The direction of the lines also head towards the cryptic symbols and structures on thepaper resting on the blue background, which was an idea that I decided to incorporate to add to the confusion and puzzle of the reading of the painting as a whole.


Have specific artworks been created by random experiments in your studio or do you usually come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning of your artistic process? 

I usually have a planned idea of what my drawings will look like and a rough idea of the composition of what my paintings will look like. Unlike the methodically created drawings however, the paintings often deviate from that planned composition and take on new or revised imagery during the process of making them.  

Specifically, during the production of one of my paintings entitled ‘Backdrop’, when I was close to being what I considered ‘finished’, I suddenly begun removing and editing the images and colours dramatically within the composition. At this time, I also painted holes and tears onto the old imagery within specific areas to create a more abstracted form and to remove further memories. This was completely unplanned, but it has led the way for future works of mine that contain an unusual level of mystery and intrigue.

Lastly, in contrast, the sculptures are formed in a very random and chaotic manner from start to finish. They constantly evolve and take on various unexpected forms throughout the process of making. This process-based way of working makes for rather ambiguous outcomes, which is always my intention with this medium in particular since this highlights my conceptual concerns of object perception.


It looks like you are keen on the figurative field. Is it like a current painting series that you aim to concentrate on this period or do more abstract images and motifs interest you as well? 

When we zoom out of a particular abstracted frame or view within film amongst other medium, the full image eventually presents itself to the audience. Similarly, oftentimes I make use of close-up imagery or blurred imagery in my own work, which can appear abstracted at first glance, but later reveal itself as something more concrete and figurative at a closer look. There is a sort of play with abstraction bordering into the figurative world, and within my practice, both exist in the same realm.


Is there a particular theme that triggers you to engage your art with?

A recurring theme that my art engages with is neurological impairment and the fragility of the human memory. Specifically, I try to make sense of my grandfather’s difficulty with memory following a stroke. These difficulties included the inability to grasp language in its written and spoken form and the inability to recognise once familiar faces and objects. Following the passing of my grandfather after experiencing life with the consequences of the stroke for several years and my mother unexpectedly passed away soon after, the concept of age and decay and life and death, triggers my work. The deaths along with the reminiscence of nostalgic moments drives me to grasp the memories associated with those most important to me and those unknown to me.


What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

The best way for my work to be contextualised is for them to be exhibited in a similar way to how they are produced and displayed in the studio; that is, paintings to be hung and sculptures to be scattered across the exhibition space. Due to the delicacy of the paper and pencil that makes the drawings, these particular pieces are best presented safely contained within a frame or vitrine, displayed not singularly but with others. Where possible each medium that I use – drawing, painting and sculpture – should be presented collectively so that the reading of the work is placed into context.


Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

Anselm Kiefer.


Do you ever wonder if additional work was needed, when an artwork’s making process is finished?

It is always a possibility that a while after I deem a work to be complete, I may eventually change my mind and if this work is still in the studio, perhaps I will add some more marks. Sometimes those marks can cause an area to feel overworked, but the removal of them with a cloth for instance can add something special to the now hazy mark-making.

Many greats have identified in different ways throughout art history that it isn’t possible to complete a painting and that it isn’t possible to reach perfection and I echo their thoughts. I have made many slip-ups in my paintings when trying to reach perfection. But through this process, I have also translated some of those mistakes into some of my best work by making use of the trace and residue during the process of its inevitable deletion or partial inclusion. 


What about the place where you work? What does your studio space look like?

I have to source materials regularly and find objects that are stimulating to me. My collection of these items is vast and is in continual replenishment; therefore the studio space is often a reflection of this chaos. On one side of the studio, are the heaps of found materials – photographs, paper and decapitated objects – some in the process of being manipulated while others are stacked on top of one another, ready for their use at some point in the future. In terms of the organisation of materials, this chaotic yet necessary arrangement of found items exist in stark contrast with the precise organisation of paint, brushes and painting in progress on the other side of the studio: the perfect tension for me!


What do your mum and dad think about your art?

When my mum was alive, she was one of my strongest supporters!


Which exhibition did you visit last?

Julie Curtiss ‘Monads and Dyads’ at White Cube


What are your plans for the near future? 

I plan to be productive in the studio and push my conceptual concerns further. I am based in London and my plans are for these works to be exhibited more in London within spaces that serve a good fit for my practice.


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