'Intersections': Artist Leslee Carsewell's work a natural fit for Monterey Library
MONTEREY — When she was a graphic designer, Leslee Carsewell would obsess over details. Typography was a special preoccupation.
"Picking the typeface and making it legible, and making the line length right is an art," the Sheffield resident says now.
Her scrupulousness hasn't faded since she left the graphic design world, but its application has shifted. Since 2013, Carsewell has been creating mixed media works that require precise mark-making and draw inspiration from a variety of the artist's different interests and experiences. Some of these pieces (19, to be exact) have been hung at the Monterey Library's Knox Gallery in an exhibit, "Intersections." Along with three photographs, these framed items will remain in the luminous wing through March 3.
"It's very subtle [work]," Carsewell said on Tuesday morning at the show. "If someone wants to buy something and they want a bang, they're not going to get it with these."
Carsewell also used "quiet" to describe how she approaches her art, driving home that her work is well-suited for the unassuming library at 452 Main Road. (The building is set to receive a $1.9 million state grant to renovate and expand a building that has stood in its current location since 1931.)
The path to the Knox Gallery winds around a bookcase in the library's central space. Carsewell had visited the building before her exhibit's opening.
"I was just — that English expression — gobsmacked by that sweet little room," Carsewell said of her first time seeing the main area. "I just want to sit here by the fire and read."
A photograph, "Emplume/Feathery," greets visitors upon entering the gallery space, which hosts approximately eight shows per year, according to the library's website.
The first mixed-media creation arrives a few paces later. "Vestige" features sets of tightly packed, dark and red horizontal lines in a box-like shape. Crossing red lines near the top evoke Roman numerals.
"This was part of a bigger piece. I didn't like it. It was too busy," Carsewell said as she introduced the work, alluding to its title.
Carsewell painted the base layer before adding the lines. She would subsequently use an eraser to alter the piece's look, sprinkling in some red as well.
"Every time [I returned to it], I would put something on. This is why I think I might be sort of OCD," she said.
Beyond tweaking individual works, Carsewell's artistic process is rooted in a receptiveness to evolution. In about 2009, she began making marks in a book of graph paper. Her early scribbling was too compact, she said.
"I was afraid," she said of her initial drawings.
With time, she loosened up a bit. She sustained her focus on lines while giving them some breathing room. One drawing she completed reminded her of a Morris Louis painting she had seen at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where she lived before moving to Sheffield.
"There's open space. It's roomy. It's changing. And I thought, 'Oh, this is something different,'" she said.
The artist considered turning her drawings into rugs; she has long harbored an interest in house renovations and restorations. This interest is evident in "Vestige" and some of her other works, including the nearby "Circulation/Traffic."
Carsewell's designs ended up on walls instead of floors because of an encounter with Jane Kasten, a Berkshires art scene fixture, in 2013. Kasten, now one of the partners behind Lenox's 4forART gallery, recommended that Carsewell paint the items in her notebook, according to Carsewell.
"That set me down a path," she said.
Broadly, Carsewell's drawings became collage compositions that eventually invited direct painting. From a palette standpoint, "Glister" is the most likely to raise eyes from book pages. One of the first pieces Carsewell drew, she painted it red (it looks a tad orange), adding bits of white and silver and blue as she went. To the left of this attention-grabber is perhaps Carsewell's most political work. In "Inderdit/No Entry," small circles are grouped next to a gray wedge and a blue expanse.
"This reminded me of refugees trying to be on shore, come on shore, and not being allowed," Carsewell said.
The artist takes a historical perspective in "Elegy," loosely basing it on Robert Motherwell's series of paintings after the Spanish Civil War, called "Elegies to the Spanish Republic." And in "Ondine," the "rabid Francophile" salutes French composer Maurice Ravel.
"Music has a tremendous influence on me ... the spacing, phrasing and cadences. I work elements the way a musician would work composition. The smallest mark, like a pause in music, makes all the difference," Carsewell wrote in a list of thoughts about her work that she brought to the interview. Ever the graphic designer (with an advertising background) and a self-proclaimed introvert, Carsewell wanted to make sure she stayed on message. She's more comfortable curling up with a book.
"I love to read. But if I'm too tired to read, I'll take an art book up to bed with me, and the last thing I do before I go to bed is I look through an art book," she said after describing all 22 works on display, the last of which hangs next to a bookcase. She took a seat at the long table in the center of the room.
"We are so lucky that all the little towns around here have libraries: New Marlborough, ... Sheffield has one, we have this one. We have [Great Barrington]. We have the beautiful Stockbridge library," she said.
Carsewell hopes her exhibit has added a new dimension to Monterey's.
"If you can come in [the library] and get your book and come in here and see something different that sparks an idea, and you go home and you doodle, or you go back out to the bookcase and you take a book out of art..." Carsewell said, punctuating her thought by clapping.
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
What: "Intersections" by Leslee Carsewell
When: Open now through March 3
Where: Knox Gallery, Monterey Library, 452 Main Road
Information: 413-528-3795; montereymasslibrary.org
After Carsewell's exhibit, Deborah Pressman's "Lines in the Landscape" is scheduled to occupy the gallery, opening on March 9. Shows by Kit Patton and Ellen Grenadier will follow.
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