Alfred Leslie, The Lives of Some Women @Janet Borden

JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 large scale color photographs, framed in brown wood and unmatted, and hung in the divided gallery space. All of works are digital c-prints mounted on Dibond, made in 2012. The prints come in two general sizes: single heads, each sized 25×22, in editions of 16, and images containing multiple figures, sized between 63×50 and 86×66, in editions of 6. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: In the past decade, we’ve seen the rigid edges of what we define as “photography” get more loose and permeable, especially as previously discrete artistic mediums have begun to overlap with more regularity. One heuristic I have developed to find the limit is to state that if the end product artwork is a photographic print of some kind, then we are still in the realm of photography in some manner. Famed painter and film maker Alfred Leslie’s new photographic images just barely fit inside this definitional boundary line, but challenge almost everything else we hold sacred about the medium. We’re way out on the bleeding edge here, which is why we ought to pay attention.

Perhaps the best way to explain what Leslie has done is to say that he is probing the intersection of painting and computer-based art, and then using the photographic print as his output. The works on view were made by “drawing” or “painting” on a tablet computer; I put those words in quotes not to be clever but to show that I am not certain that those words really represent his artistic process anymore. There is no ink or oil paint here (no camera either), no digital scanning of physical works made by himself or others, no appropriation or collage; it is all direct input of gestural motion, captured by a stylus as colored pixels, then further modified and manipulated via software.

What is truly fascinating about these images is the way Leslie moves back and forth between the realistic and the representational, making hybrid portraits that have alternating moments of rich detail and unexpected paint program flatness. In a few images, there are hands that seem crisp and lifelike, with convincing skin and fingernails (which raises the mind bending question – is it possible to make a photo-realistic photograph)? Right alongside, there are areas of computer-generated polygons used to create kimono patterns and decorate backgrounds, as well as oddly blank slabs of color that seem to float right on the surface. There are portions of the works that have all the hallmarks of layered underpainting, creating translucence and depth of color, flanked by stark undifferentiated, untextured notional items (a cup, the edge of a gown), with a minimum of explanation. What is hard to see in scans and only really visible up close is the revolutionary way these layers interact and overlap, moving from plausibly real to obviously not in continuous exchange.

These images are full of women, bare breasts and exposed skin galore, and at some level these scenes could be considered confrontational. But there really is no evidence of narrative here, and the fact that an arm or a breast or a crotch is front and center is remarkably unimportant. What draws you in is the experimentation with spatial dimensions, with different types of representation, and with the push and pull of simple abstraction and nuanced features. This isn’t a love affair with New Aesthetics machine generated imagery and artifacts, but instead a ground breaking combination of old and new. In many ways, these works have nothing to do with issues inherent to photography, at least as we know it today. But the real reason to see this show is to be forced to consider what photography might evolve to mean (and include) if “painting” and “computer art” are permanently swirled into the mix, and what might emerge if these tools are then pushed to their limits by artists who defy categorization.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The smaller single heads are $12500 each, while the larger multiple figure images range from $18500 to $23500, based on size. Leslie’s new photographic work has no secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors.

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JTF (just the facts): Published by Aperture in 2024 (here). Softcover with dust jacket (17 x 22.5 cm), 124 pages, with 80 color and black-and-white reproductions. Includes a conversation between ... Read on.

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