Alfred Leslie: The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God

Art Scene

Alfred Leslie: The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God

There is still a hint of painter and filmmaker Alfred Leslie’s background as an abstract expressionist in his exhibition of photographs, Alfred Leslie: The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God. On view at Janet Borden Gallery, the work features seven new portraits from his series, 50 Characters In Search of A Reader.

VALENTINE WILMOT, 2017, 60” x 48” dye sublimation print, Edition 1/1 with one artist’s proof

Piccadilly, by Arnold Bennett

Copyright Alfred Leslie, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

The portraits, an extension of his shift to figurative painting in the 1960s, are part of a series of character studies from film and literature. Leslie’s ability to imply an unspoken language of mystery, mood and the unknown, qualities often found in abstract work, lends an aura of suspense and intrigue to the series. A sense of suspended animation is captured in each portrait that envelops viewers in both storytelling anticipation and gradiousity.

JOAN MEDFORD, 2017, 60” x 48” dye sublimation print, Edition 1/1 with one artist’s proof

The Cocktail Waitress, by James M. Cain

Copyright Alfred Leslie, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

The imposing scale of the images, which range from approximately 5ft x 4ft to 7ft by 5ft, is compounded by literary characters involved in sexual and violent worlds. Whether one is familiar with characters – like Sho Sho and Valentine Wilmot from Piccadilly, by Arnold Bennett; or Roger Schumann from Pylon, by William Faulkner – the images still entice.

SHO SHO, 2017, 60” x 48” dye sublimation print, Edition 1/1 with one artist’s proof

Piccadilly, by Arnold Bennett

Copyright Alfred Leslie, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

Six of the seven portraits are vertical and feature a single figure facing the camera, arms at their side, and shot from the waist or thighs up. The seventh photo is horizontal and features a male and female, still facing the camera, however, with their arms intertwined. All of the images have a black background, reminiscent of the feeling of being in a small black box theater as a witness to an intensely dramatic performance.

ROGER SCHUMANN, 2017, 60” x 48” dye sublimation print, Edition 1/1 with one artist’s proof

Pylon, by William Faulkner

Copyright Alfred Leslie, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

Despite the fact that the photographs are shot in color, the black background and various combinations of black and white attire worn by each subject together lend a sense of structure to each image and a cohesiveness to the works as a group. All of the figures share the same expression, an unreadable straight closed lip silence. Only the natural contours of their mouths and the slight disharmony of their eyes offer a variation on a theme. The shared emotional tenor of the characters in each image reads like an Agatha Christie whodunit.

OWEN BROWN, 2017, 60” x 48” dye sublimation print, Edition 1/1 with one artist’s proof

Cloudsplitter, by Russell Banks

Copyright Alfred Leslie, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

Each character can only be read externally through details of costume and performance. They all appear to be masters of internal disguise, daring viewers to try to uncover more. Their performances are made manifest by Leslie’s openness to yet another transition, one to digital photography, technological manipulation, and digital dye sublimation printing. His use of these contemporary tools is executed to marvelous effect, creating a clearly digital oddity in each of the characters’ facial features. A distortion is present that can’t quite be pinpointed, but that clearly delineates the subjects of his portraits as fictional.

Alfred Leslie: The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God is on view at Janet Borden through December 22, 2017.