- Where are you from and where do you reside?
- I am a Bay Area native, and have spent most of my adult life in San Francisco and New York, with a year in South America as a teenager, and a weird stint in Utah after that. I’m back in Berkeley, now.
- We recently visited your Emeryville studio, a former WWII submarine repair facility. How long had you worked there and did the architecture of the space influenced your work?
- I started here in December 2014, so not long. The quality of light there and the soaring space have affected my process and mood more than achieving particular tangible results.
- What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
- Establishing a routine. Sometimes I struggle with the challenge of getting myself to the table, of not wanting disappoint myself and my ideas— afraid of making work that’s not good. But I try to remember that you must show up and slog through the rough patches and get through those long, disappointing hours to finally arrive at the “sweet spots.”
My work has always been inspired by the mysterious boundary between the truth and the unknowable. The ways we use religion, science, history and other systems to grapple with these questions are still of interest.
— Leigh Wells
- How do you choose your materials?
- I am not usually hunting for particular materials, but somehow happen upon things that either smoothly fit into my thoughts at the time, or inspire a detour to engage with new topics.
Aesthetically certain types of printing do appeal to me more, such as duotone and mezzotint, so I keep an eye out for books that reproduce images in this way. I’m careful what I take from my source material and how I do it, as it’s very important that the imagery I utilize doesn’t “land” in an obvious subject matter— I need to be able to keep things open, slightly ambiguous.
- Have you always worked in collage? What unique creative opportunities does the medium of collage offer in your process?
- The beauty of collage is that it engages with materials that bring their own histories to the process. Gabriel Orozco describes engaging with existing sources when he says “by creating a new object from it, I bring about the possibility of communication, because it continues to have its own story, in addition to the story of the transformation which it has undergone.”
- How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
- My work has always been inspired by the mysterious boundary between the truth and the unknowable. The ways we use religion, science, history and other systems to grapple with these questions are still of interest.
A few years ago, events in my life moved the work from the more removed area of thoughts and beliefs into more personal territory, dealing with the dark emotional and physical experiences of betrayal, then loss and grief. The thread of questioning moved into what we can know about others and what can be deliberately hidden from us.
Previous areas of investigation gave way to researching relevant psychology topics to help me make sense of what had happened: narcissistic personality disorder, relational trauma, sex addiction, alcoholism.
Learning and making work about these things helped me move through that time.
Now, I find myself increasingly motivated by formal concerns in the work, lifting off of specific subject matter, and moving into much more positive territory.
- Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?
- As far as the work goes, A surprising part of my creative process is that I can be oddly and strongly inspired by titles of books, poetry and artwork, a well written phrase, or a randomly heard pair of words.