August 29, 2014

Spotlight: Leah Rials

Get ready to swoon.

There are different levels of enjoyment, ranging from, "I really dig this, can't live without it," to "I enjoy this like I 'enjoy' stalking pictures of my ex's new girlfriend." But when we really enjoy something, really feel it revving up those endorphins, we know it, and it's very easy. And as you click through Leah Rials' portfolio, pinks and greens and purples flashing in front of you, that feeling of enjoyment inevitably swells up. It's like someone has flicked on the happy switch in your brain (wouldn't it be great if that existed?) and as you're looking through her work, it glows brightly. There, in front of that screen amidst dogs and girls, pineapples and pastel strokes, happiness just comes naturally.

This is not meant to detract from her artwork's depth; Leah's paintings and embroideries are riddled with texture and abstractions alluding to emotions and a process very unique and personal to its creator. But the fact that those paintings and their vivid colors are knocking our happy little socks off almost instantly is much appreciated and not always an easy thing to come by. We chatted with Leah about her inspiration, hitting the Tumblr-big time and her venture to becoming a librarian. 

THE LE SIGH: Each of your paintings seem to use a lot of vibrant, really striking color. What dictates what colors go into a specific work?

Leah Rials: When I begin a painting I never have a particular vision in mind. I usually pick a color that catches my eye and start from there. A lot of my paintings are sort of a play on what colors work well with others and discovering the types of layers and blends I can create with different colors. I'm most attracted to bright purple, pink and blue colors. I've got a bad habit about limiting myself to a pastel color palette but I'm trying to explore more of a bold and diverse range.

TLS:What inspires you and your art? If you had to say what your paintings were of, in your vision (abstract or real, emotions or people or landscapes, or anything in the universe), what would you say?

LR:I'm not sure that any certain thing inspires me, it's more of a feeling that I'm not really sure how to put into words. Color is really the main inspiration and driving force behind my work and I think a lot of that comes from my childhood. The colors I use in a lot of my paintings remind me of colors used in old shows like Eureeka's Castle and Rainbow Brite. I was also a total 90s Nickelodeon brat kid and a lot of the original cartoons on that network like Doug, Rugrats, Rocko's Modern Life, etc. use a lot of the same bright colors I find myself using most of the time.

TLS: Texture also seems to play an important role in your paintings, with visible streaks of paint or materials in which the paintings are on coming through. Can you go more into that?

LR: I've never taken any basic art courses and painting is something that is pretty new to me. I get really frustrated trying to use paint brushes because I can never make it look nice and neat. That frustration lead me to just using my palette knife and hands. Turns out, I really like finger painting! Limiting the use of tools that go into a painting allows for a lot more room to explore blending and texture. I really enjoy the messy feeling of it and I rely on texture to make my paintings feel more complete and fun.

TLS: It would seem from your website and the way you've categorized things by year, that you were doing more with collage and embroidery in the past few years, and are now focusing more on painting. Is this just the way your website is set up now, or would you say you've actually shifted artistic preferences? If the latter, what caused that shift?

LR: I would say that it's definitely due to artistic preferences. I didn't really start creating art until I was about 21 years old. I'm from a small town in Mississippi and the community there doesn't really value different forms of art other than paintings of magnolias and sunsets on the beach. There wasn't much of an artist community either, at least for kids my age. So growing up I always felt drawn to art but excluded from it because I couldn't draw realistically. It wasn't until I joined Tumblr and started following collage artists like Jesse Treece and Delilah Jones that I realized, "hey wow! here's this cool art medium that can allow me to be artistic in a way that I really enjoy!" Then I got really into embroidery after my friend Victoria kept creating these beautiful animal pieces and I was really curious about the whole process.

Embroidery is so enjoyable because it's very laid back and easy to fix your mistakes (and cheap!). It's also a very time consuming process for me which is one of the reasons I don't do as many embroideries as I would like to. Both collage and embroidery are art forms that allow me to have a lot of control over my pieces, which was really nice when I first started making art. I started discovering more contemporary and abstract painters late last year, so around January I started experimenting with acrylic and watercolors and feel like I'm still in the learning process when it comes to painting. So I guess this very long paragraph full of run-on sentences was just to say that I still feel very new to art and that the way my website is categorized shows the process of discovering myself as an artist, exploring different art forms, and becoming more confident with the pieces I create. I really want to start playing around with more fabrics and maybe begin quilting soon, so it will be interesting to see how that works out!

TLS: What artists have influenced you and your style?

LR: I'm really influenced by Louise Zhang. She is so creative and her use of color and shape really draws me in. Louise constantly impresses me by using so many different materials to create new work. Jenn Smith, John Karel, Kayla Newell, Lauren Doughty and Ashley Peifer are a few more artists who have influenced my style. This list could go on forever!

TLS: A few of your embroideries have made it to the Tumblr log-in page, which is so neat! What's it like seeing your work on such a large scale, where you know millions must encounter it?

LR: It's really amazing! But also a little unreal. I just really hope that people can see it and feel inspired to create something, which sounds uber cheesy but is totally true! I sort of stated this earlier but the art community on Tumblr is the reason I started creating art and becoming interested in art in the first place. I think it would be really awesome if someone saw that and became interested in creating art themselves.

TLS: Speaking of your embroidery, it seems to be a growing movement with more artists giving it a try. I've not seen it done quite like yours though, with really lovely abstract renderings. What's lead you to giving this art form a go, and taking it in the particular direction you've explored thus far?

LR: Embroidery is such a flexible art form that you can do so much with. A lot of the time I start my embroideries the way I start my paintings: I have no clue what I want the piece to look like or what direction I want to take it in. The whole embroidery process is a great way to de-stress so I usually just sit on my bed with music or the tv going, start a piece and then let it guide me the rest of the way. Color is also really important in my embroidery pieces. Once I started becoming interested in abstract paintings I was curious about how I could translate abstract work to embroidery and a lot of my pieces are a result of that.

TLS: You're also studying to become a librarian, which is fantastic (and something I'm so jealous of)! Would you say books and/or authors inspire your art as well?

LR: Yes, I also work full time in a library! My grandmother is a children's librarian and she really inspired me to get my masters in library science. My grandmother is also extremely crafty and I think I get my artistic sense from her as well. Anyway, books definitely inspire my art! I love stories that incorporate magical realism, like a lot of Haruki Murakami's books. A lot of my paintings and especially my collages are influenced by the idea of dream-like fantasies and the feeling of being in a waking dream.

See more of Leah's work here.

Written by Molly Morris