With most great paintings we begin with the ‘big picture’: we stand at some distance and try to hold the whole canvas in our vision – we want to see the wood before examining the trees. But with Leroy so extraordinary are the ‘trees’ that we are compelled to move closer, towards the gnarled roots which seem to grow out of the surface of the canvas.
No other traditional paintings that I can think of are so three-dimensional. The paint is almost used like the clay of a sculptor, and yet they are still clearly ‘paintings’: on a canvas, in a frame. Indeed the power of the works comes from the tension between the abstraction of the sculptural and the realism of the painterly, because underneath the thickly-braided curtains of paint, squeezed from so many tubes, are veiled portraits, shadowed landscapes, half-remembered dreams. The pigments pulsate before our eyes, but also with our eyes, as we constantly want to adjust our vision from the pores of the paint to the portraits behind.
This dance of focus as we stand in front of Leroy’s pieces is the ultimate spectator’s response: to experience a painting rather than merely to look at it. Click here to view paintings