MONTVILLE — Leslie Woods, a Montville artist, has a unique approach to why she paints sport figures that encourages viewers of her work to place themselves within the portrait.
“Sport is where people can be totally absorbed physically, mentally and emotionally, where people function at the essence of being human,” Woods states on her website. “I paint figures in sport because our bodies are meant to move and each sport challenges with different actions. My designs interpret the strength, beauty and attitude of the players and their games.”
As an art student, Woods, in a manner admittedly surprising to herself, was able to draw and sculpt the human form with ease.
Eventually, she tired of drawing models in studios maintaining the same static poses.
After a winter of exclusively painting ballet and ballerinas amid her studying anatomy, Woods soon found herself tapping into her love of watching sports and sourced her inspiration from athletic scenes, such as a video of a baseball pitcher going through his pitching routine in slow motion.
“Sport is a place that demands a person be absolutely physically, mentally and emotionally involved,” said Woods.
In creating her art, Woods aims to portray the importance of motion through athletics, paying homage to what the human body endures through athletic competition.
“I wanted to show motion in a way that held my own awe for what athletes accomplished,” said Woods. “The second sport piece I made shows how a pitcher faces one direction with a leg raised, then a quarter second later, faces another direction with the opposite leg raised. That was an ‘Aha’ moment.”
The pitching piece won a prize in a statewide art show, and sealed Woods’ fate.
Woods, on her website, details how she paints figures in sport without faces clearly visible as a way for those viewing the art to envision themselves in the scene and recollect their passions for the sport.
Woods sources her inspiration from a bevy of situations, as she has found little is needed to elicit her creative spirit, and even keeps folders on many subjects.
“A new work might be inspired by watching the sport in season or a granddaughter playing soccer,” she commented. “One time I read about branding and made a work of professional bike riders because the ads on their shirts jumped out at me. My daughter played field hockey and the sticks crossing and the eye protection are enough for new ideas.”
One folder, in fact, contains advertisements for sneakers and rugs, as well as colors and geometric designs, the latter used as part of a process to convey the body changing. Other folders are filled with photos and drawings for each sport Woods paints — football, tennis, baseball, ice hockey, golf, basketball, running, cycling, swimming, boating and field hockey — because, as Woods noted, what the eye sees, the mind can’t retain.
“I search my images and assemble what I need, moving body parts and drawing each image to the size of surface I'm using,” she said. “Sport photographers love the sensational shot, but I like rhythm and pattern. Then geometry and color are used to enhance the composition. I avoid faces because the movement comes first and I want people to picture themselves in the action.”
Woods’ painting process consists of working for a few hours over a span of several days, before leaving the piece simmer before later returning to the analyze the piece with a clearer view.
“Everybody says it takes years of study to make a painting but once you have all that info in your head, you work faster,” said Woods. “My difficulty is that I continually challenge myself to express an idea in a fresh way. Whether through new techniques or larger size, I always seek the new ‘Aha’, I get it.”
Woods, in fact, as part of the exploratory creative process, has sanded down old panels to create new ideas. John Bisbee and Russell Kahn have both advised Woods to paint on larger canvases as the larger canvases hold exciting challenges.
“Both the challenge and thrill of my work is that I create it all in my mind so as I learn, I change,” said Woods. “With so many black athletes, I felt compelled to create a political piece and that led to new ways to lay in images.”