Artist Biography - Leslie Glenn Damhus
Leslie Glenn Damhus RWA has built up a reputation for her immediately recognisable style that puts an idiosyncratic contemporary twist on Renaissance religious imagery.
Leslie's childhood home in Pennsylvania was an apartment directly above that of the renowned artist Paul Bransom, who illustrated the US 1913 edition of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. Spending aft...ernoons on the porch with him, he taught her how to draw animals and imagery.
Seemingly always interested in the occult or the strange, from a very young age she was mesmerised and terrorised by Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. "I couldn’t stop looking at it. It was like looking at something naughty, and being a bit terrified by it, but not being able to look away, I was drawn back to it, time and time again. I believe it was the contrast of ideas that fascinated me. Beauty and sweetness a long side the grotesque and nightmarish or paradise and hell all in one painting. I think this idea still resonates with me today."
These influences, coupled with her passion for Renaissance religious painting, are obvious motivations in her work today. In keeping with Renaissance custom, Glenn Damhus’ paintings capture the spirit of how symbolism is adaptive to changing social values. The playful signs and symbols in her Marian portraits represent concepts that remain, even today, in our supposedly secular society, sacred and wonderful.
‘My creative practice reflects my interest in devotional imagery. Appropriating the work of Renaissance artists, I look to blur the lines between the historic and the contemporary.'
Centre stage in a number of Leslie’s paintings you will find an iconic woman with an enigmatic smile; you might find her dressed in the garments of the renaissance, but with a pop of colour more at home in 1980s New York.
"Often, symbolism in devotional imagery is playful. I strive to reflect this in my own work. What allegorical secrets are contained in fruit, or plants, or in the animals themselves?
I am also interested in the double meanings of animal symbolism: how a bird, for example, may signify a prophet in one painting and the Devil in another, or both at once, suggesting that nature can be simultaneously serene and menacing.
Subtle contemporary fabrics play another important role: swaddling clothes, or the Virgin’s dress are patterned in polka dots or bubble gum tones of yellow, pink and blue urban camouflage. My mother was a fabulous seamstress and her love of fabrics left a lasting impression on me. Her choices of fabrics were often rich in colour and elaborately patterned. I often use contemporary fabrics in my work such as animal prints or even knitted pussy hats as cultural references.
My paintings are made in oil on wooden panels with attention to details. Increasingly, I am interested in the textures and finishes that come out of the processes I use to create the work. An additional printing process creates a paradoxical combination of the ‘look’ of fresco paintings with multi-layered oil techniques.
Part of the process of making new work of appropriated imagery is deciding what to leave in and what to leave out. By bringing the richness of devotional imagery into the contemporary art space, I am expressing my own sense that such imagery is still somehow relevant to modern life.’
Leslie graduated from the University of the West of England, Bristol with an Honours Degree in Fine Arts. In 2017 she became an academician of the RWA. She has lived in the US, Denmark and Australia and currently lives and works in Frome, Somerset, England.