Dene Leigh tells us about his work as a painter and being shortlisted for the Young Masters Art Prize 2014…

Dene Leigh’s paintings deal with neurological impairment using tromp l’oeil techniques.  Here he tells us about his work…

What is it about the Young Masters Art Prize that you are most interested in?

The Young Masters Art Prize has offered me the unique opportunity to exhibit alongside Old Masters. We have seen this on a grand scale in the past couple of years with the introduction of Frieze Masters, which I have very much enjoyed each time, but it is still quite a new concept and that really interests me!

Can you explain to us what your work is about?

Using painterly techniques of the Old Masters to create a collaged effect, my paintings confront contemporary issues attempting to see through the eyes of my grandfather, who after suffering a major stroke, lived the rest of his life with impaired face recognition, impaired object perception and impaired language. Despite this, his sense of touch and vision were unaffected: these two senses and the three main neurological impairments that he experienced are central juxtapositions in my artwork.

Through themes of memory, these paintings incorporate different artistic disciplines with a strong emphasis on collage by means of illusionistic painting. They emphasise the texture and feel of objects and portray combinations of imagery of my grandfather’s lost reminiscences with depictions of his neurological impairments often by concealing physiognomies and text through the use of bold symbols and through the use of dark shadows caused by the hindrance of objects, while playfully revealing other imagery that may lead to a vague clue of what we cannot see.

With elements of Trompe L’oeil, my paintings have an almost physical presence to the point where the subjects seem ready to break through the surface of the canvas. They represent a fusion of nostalgic features collected from my painted studies, photographs, collages, memory and the imagination. Consequently, some of the screened painted characters aren’t depictions of existing people, neither are some of the painted objects or faint text hidden within the composition; they’re fictitious.

Which artist/s are you most inspired by?

Currently, I really enjoy work by artists such as Grayson Perry, Yiadom-boakye, Ofili, Stezaker, Richter, Kiefer, Kusama, and Khan (Idris) and I would say that some of these contemporary artists have significantly informed my current practice- particularly Khan and Kiefer, who both use writing within their works to achieve incredibly interesting and varied results. I find both of their works rather collage-like; their continuous process of creating and erasing or adding new layers whilst retaining traces of what has gone before are quite astonishing.

In the modernist era, the genre of collage was immense. And ever since great artists like Picasso used the techniques in their paintings in the twentieth century, collage as a practice, begun to blossom. I am really interested in Picasso. He has definitely been an influence, along with Braque of course. Dali, Cornell, Ernst and Schwitters also inspire me, as well as Duchamp ‘s collages and ready makes.

In terms of the painterly elements of my practice, amongst many things [Dutch still life for example], chiaroscuro techniques by Masters like Raphael, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Caravaggio have influenced my paintings greatly. Caravaggio has been a massive influence. He used a more dynamic form of chiaroscuro in his paintings and this has influenced the dramatic transition of light and dark in my painting today, thus shaping my use of Trompe L’oeil developed during the last few years of my practice.

Who inspired you to become an artist?

I was and still am lucky enough to have had the support from my family and friends and it was also a blessing meeting some inspirational artists and tutors along the way who have steered me in the right direction.

My art teacher in secondary school continually pushed me to my limits and embraced the formal academic techniques of painting, which I will be eternally grateful for. When I was accepted at art school, my teacher was delighted and it was there at art school that I was lucky enough to have had a couple other great tutors that gave me the confidence to explore collage.

It was this fusion of academic painterly technique and collage that was encouraged by my tutors at Wimbledon College of Art, which allowed me to find my own niche and develop and this support undoubtedly gave me the confidence to wish to pursue a career as an artist.

If you weren’t an artist what would you be?

I would probably be a designer or another occupation in that sort of field.

You may be surprised to hear that I was also quite keen to become a full-time magician! I perform occasionally.

What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?

I see success as a long journey. I am in my studio all the time creating. It is like breathing for me nowadays. It’s natural for me. This momentum is so important to enable development: so to answer your question, I’d say that my greatest achievement is the ability to constantly make art, to continually move forward and to understand (as my old art teacher in secondary school said) “you are only as good as your last painting!”

What are your plans for the future?

I am currently working on a series of paintings for my first solo show in London, which I am incredibly excited about.

Image above: Dene Leigh, Prosopagnosia, 2011-13, oil on panel, 81x110cm

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