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Poetic and political

May 24, 2016

The word “breach” can be used in many different ways. Legally, “breach of contract” is the failure to observe an agreement. It can also mean a gap in a wall or barrier. Breach can also be used as a verb — especially when it comes to the act of a whale breaking the surface of water.

Santa Fe-based artist Courtney M. Leonard grew up in the Shinnecock Nation of Long Island, New York, where culture historically revolved around whaling and water. Leonard’s exhibition “Breach: Log 16,” on view April 16 through Aug. 6 at the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center and Brickyard Gallery, is an exploration of historical ties to water and whale, imposed law and a current relationship of material sustainability.

This immersive multimedia exhibition includes a two-channel video installation that Leonard created during a unique art residency that occurred in 2015 on the Charles W. Morgan, a recently restored 1840’s whaling vessel based in Mystic, Connecticut. While on the boat, Leonard marveled not only at the intense hand-hewn physicality of the boat itself but also at the work routines of the sailors.

“I began to focus on the hand movements of everyone rigging and started video recording these actions, focusing entirely on the hands of the individuals,” recalled Leonard. “Once I retuned to the studio, I began to realize that these movements of the hand are very similar to the movements and actions of the hand while shaping a clay coil.”

Clay is essential to Leonard’s art. Her work is intensely crafted using a variety of techniques and natural clay drawn from Native American traditions, including the use of sparkling micaceous clay that is often used for cooking vessels. The ceramic work in “Breach: Log 16” makes reference to images and themes as diverse as whales’ teeth, scrimshaw and traditional indigenous fishing baskets. All of these relate to the sustainability and availability of water, but also to the sustainability of culture and tradition.

Garth Johnson, ASU Art Museum curator of ceramics, selected Leonard as the first artist to mount a solo exhibition at the museum’s new Brickyard Gallery location.

“Courtney M. Leonard is one of the strongest emerging voices in the field of ceramics today,” said Johnson. “Her art manages to be both poetic and political, and also simultaneously personal and universal. ‘Breach: Log 16’ is meticulously crafted to contain historical and cultural references, but also to make the viewer reflect on their own relationship with nature and sustainability.”

Leonard will give the 2016 Jan Fisher Memorial Lecture at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 15 at the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center and Brickyard Gallery, with the opening reception of “Breach: Log 16” to follow. The exhibition preview for museum members and ASU alumni will begin at 5:30 p.m.

This exhibition is supported by the Centering on the Future campaign.


About the artist

Courtney Michele Leonard is an artist and filmmaker from the Shinnecock Nation of Long Island, New York. Leonard’s work explores the evolution of language, image and culture through mixed media pieces of video, audio and tangible objects. She studied art and museum studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts (AFA 2000), Alfred University (BFA 2002) and the Rhode Island School of Design (MFA 2008). Her current work embodies the multiple definitions of “breach,” an exploration and documentation of historical ties to water, whale and material sustainability.

Leonard has given lectures and exhibited nationally and internationally at Toi Ngapuhi, Northland College (New Zealand), Museum of Art and Design (New York), Eastern Connecticut University (Willimantic, Connecticut), Tribeca Film Institute (New York), National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.), University of the Creative Arts Farnham (United Kingdom) and the University of Rostock (Germany).

Leonard currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and works as a professional artist, lecturer and educator.

ASU Art Museum