Friday, July 11, 2008

Mark Leach PS, President Elect of The Pastel Society - an obituary

Back Home (a moment for reflection)
70x82.5 cm, Pastel on canvas
copyright Estate of Mark Leach

On 29th March this year Mark Leach was elected to be the next President of The Pastel Society in 2009. Last Friday, on 4th July 2008, he passed away.

In this post I'm going to comment on his work, point you to places where you can see it still and intersperse my comments with extracts from Mark's own manifesto which is featured on his website.

Mark's work was often large, always impressive and frequently featured pure and unmixed colour. When I first saw his work in 1993 when he won a major award from The Pastel Society , I remember being very struck by how he combined the abstraction of subject matter with a very limited palette of rich colour. It really stood out from the more traditional offerings at the time. He clearly demonstrated how powerful pastels can be when used in a colourist way. Even when his palette was made up of mainly pale colours, his characteristic use of colour had a huge impact. He had been the recipient of a number of important awards over the years including the Annual Award of the Pastel Society of Canada in 1998.

Mark was very much a colourist with an emotional response to colours...........
Alone in the studio, standing at my easel and surrounded by my pastels, I feel like a composer sitting at a piano. Various thoughts are in my head, but like a composer striking the first chord, opting for a particular key, I sense a colour, a certain shade of red or blue say, with which I fill the paper to set the emotional tone for the whole painting.

For the sake of colour harmony, I will tend to work within a very limited colour range. There appears to be no proven science to colour harmony as there is say to music, so it is an emotional thing we all have to develop within ourselves. Having chosen a base colour to work with, I will try to stay with that colour, composing form with changes in shade and hue. It is an intense process where I try to create and then work on an emotional high. This can fade all too quickly, so I have to work fast.

The joy of working with pastel is that I can immediately grab for the colour I am sensing as the emotion hits me.
I always looked forward to looking for his work at the annual exhibition of the Pastel Society at the Mall Galleries - and was intrigued as to how he worked
I now work simply, usually just a piece of paper and a good selection of chalk pastels, getting as close to pure pigment as possible. I concentrate on making the sketch not a means to an end, but the end itself.
I found out about his death via The Pastel Journal which has an In Memorium: Mark Leach item on its blog. This very helpfully highlights that we can all also read (or reread) an interview with Mark Leach, following the publication of his book, which was published in the June 2007 edition of the Pastel Journal. Remembered Landscapes is available by downloading a pdf file. It comes highly recommended by me.
We should always remember that we are artists, not scientists. Our job is to explore the beauty of two dimensional form and colour in a way that stimulates the intellect and emotions, not necessarily be bound to any truth to nature.
His website carries a notice of his passing away on the home page - but otherwise remains active for the time being. I highly recommend taking a look at it to see the character and impact of his work and why it works so well in pastel.

On his website, you can find:
  • his manifesto - from an article in The Artist in 2003,
  • work which is currently on exhibition at a variety of galleries, past shows (do check out the link to Paris) and details of future shows - plus you can also see more work in the websites of two of his galleries (see end for links)
  • an archive of his work which is a mixture of work in public and private collections and work which is still available
  • a link to his book "Raw Colour with Pastels"
  • bio details of Mark and his awards
My personal view is that painting should be concerned primarily with harmony and balance, and that this must apply to all aspects of the painting to achieve a properly satisfying composition. As well as a pleasing construction of line, form and colour, we should consider a true balance of subject and object matter, of representation versus aesthetics, and similarly our desire to express ourselves and the needs of the viewer.
Mark was elected to The Pastel Society in 1994 and was an active member and regular exhibitor. He had been elected to the Council in 1997 and had been the Treasurer for some time prior to his election to President. I'm very much guessing here but I think maybe one of the ways he has been most influential is in the way the Pastel Society has embraced more contemporary directions in work now exhibited at its annual exhibition. In the last 15 years the nature of the exhibition has changed - for the better, in my opinion. Each exhibition now has a very impressive range of art from the more traditional and straightforwardly representational to the more contemporary and abstact - demonstrating the power and versatility of pastel and its role in relation to contemporary art. Long may this continue to be the case.

I had a short and pleasant correspondence with Mark earlier this year in relation to Pastel Society images for use in my review on this blog (The Pastel Society UK - 109th Annual Exhibition). I took the opportunity to ask him whether the Pastel Society would be having a display of work following the very recent death of John Ward. I got a very helpful response from Mark in which he also very kindly commented on how he'd read my blog in the past and found it informative and helpful.

How sad to find that I'm now informing pastel artists and readers of this blog about his own passing - as I start to wonder how this will be marked in next year's exhibition at the Mall Galleries - which would have been his first as President...........



indigocarole said...

Katherine, thank you for a very moving tribute and links to some beautiful pictures. While not an artist myself, I love reading your blog and looking and learning more about art.


Robyn Sinclair said...

Mark Leach's use of colour is so inspiring. It is sad to think that these are the last of his beautiful paintings.

Casey Klahn said...

Mark Leach will live on through the emulation of others: fans who read his book and admire his art. And the timelessness of his art will endure.

May he rest in peace.

Jala Pfaff said...

He was the first pastel artist I ever liked.

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