I was born in 1952 in Peekskill, New York—my father a chemist, my mother a high school biology teacher. (I can't resist sharing the hospital bill, paid in full:)
They were always supportive of my creative tendencies. I inherited their scientific way of thinking. This can clearly be seen in my artwork which has always been involved with exploring, documenting, measuring, calculating, identifying and explaining. I was the third of the four remarkable Leslie brothers.
I went to Amherst College intending to go into genetic research, although I never actually took even one biology course. I studied Philosophy, Literature and Anthropology. Also got embroiled in the Viet Nam era—here, just moments before being arrested for blocking entry into the Westover Air Force base in Chicopee, Mass, in response to Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia.
I was racing through college too fast, so I took my life savings of $1,500 and spent a year in the Ourika Valley of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains. I worked with a local cobbler, and a blacksmith. I got into all sorts of tight spots and came home with a gold tooth and much of the self-awareness I’d sought.
Back at Amherst for my junior year, on a whim I took my first art course—Intro Sculpture—and I’ve never looked back. I changed my major to Art and completed all the requirements in one year. What with that “late start”, I felt I needed more art schooling, so I went on to study painting at New York’s School of Visual Arts. I received a full scholarship to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and then earned my MFA in painting from the University of Pennsylvania in 1980, where I studied with Neil Welliver, John Button, Susan Shatter and Rudy Burkhardt, among others.
I worked during this time for Creative Time, Inc., in Manhattan, and then later as a studio assistant and workshop supervisor for artist Otto Piene, constructing large-scale inflatable sculptures.
I met Ruby Leslie (née Robin Phillips) in 1977. We married in 1980, moved to Vermont in 1984, and have had three children, all now beautifully grown.
My first solo painting exhibition was in 1982, at the Gross-McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia. I’ve maintained a steady exhibition schedule ever since, receiving numerous honors for my work, including visual artist fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Community Foundation. In the past decade I have produced five different traveling solo exhibitions, including: Intersection: Books as Paintings, Paintings as Books (1995), Long Playing Paintings (1997), A Theory of Everything (2000), Space + Time (2002) and, most recently, Top of the World—a travelling exhibition about the Arctic that debuted in 2006 and has been expanding in scope ever since.
I began making artist’s books as a result of experimenting with non-rectangular painting shapes—especially circles. As the work took on a sequential narrative, I began folding the paintings into various book forms. I have since specialized in making limited edition and one-of-a-kind artist’s books, ranging in size from two inches to ten feet. I paint and write on a variety of themes, including our place in the Universe, a layman’s theory of relativity, the battle between nature and technology, and, most recently, light and dark on and above the Arctic Circle. My books and paintings are in many private and public collections around the world.
In 1998 I made my first trip to the Arctic, as a guest of the Gilfelagið, an art foundation in Akureyri, Iceland. While there I invented a book structure—an accordion folded “doughnut”, where images and text move in full circle. This structure folds into an artist’s book and can be either viewed fully opened for exhibition or folded into book form to be read page by page. During the Solstice, when it stays light
around the clock, I painted—one hour for each of the 24 pages—following the sun for 24 hours as it made a complete revolution behind the full 360° city panorama. I’ve used this fanning structure to measure time—hours, days, weeks or years. Part painting, part book, part performance art—Time and Location is at the heart of each painting.
Having experienced Iceland’s latitude, I completed several more artist book cycles—summer and winter, in Kotzebue, Alaska, and then, as visiting artist at the Kunstnersenter in Longyearbyen, Svalbard—above the 78th Parallel. Next came Iqaluit, on Nunavut’s Baffin Island, Canada. This past summer and winter I worked in Inari--the Sami cultural center in northernmost Finland--thanks to an
Independent Research Award from the American-Scandinavian Foundation. And this next summer I have been invited by the Christensen Gallery of Kjøllefjord, Finnmark, Norway, to exhibit and create a summer solstice cycle there, on the northernmost peninsula of Europe.
As Professor of Fine Arts at the Visual Arts Center of Johnson State College in northern Vermont, I have taught painting, drawing and bookmaking since 1984 in our BFA and MFA degree programs. JSC has a jewel of an art program in the north of Vermont, with a strong faculty who actually like each other(!) And, speaking of liking each other—my wife and I, 30 years later, are still together. Ruby Leslie, is now a
nationally recognized weaver, famous for her groundbreaking sense of design in color and structure. We’re both very active in our small town community, here about 40 miles south of the Quebec border. And my latest accomplishment ?--Learning HTML code and Dreamweaver, which has resulted in this website.