By Nicholas Dekker, marketing, communications & events administrator for GCAC
Leah Wong is a Columbus-based artist who created a piece for Art Spot, a series of 13 installations in storefronts and windows around downtown and the Short North, on view now through the end of June 2023. Leah’s piece “You and Me” hangs in the windows of GCAC’s offices (182 E. Long St.); we chatted with her about her work, process and what she created for Art Spot.
Nick: How do you describe your work to newcomers?
Leah: My work is inspired by nature, light, plants, water, architectural patterns and many other elements of our daily life. I observe intertwining relationships involving lines, shapes and illuminated colors and present them through multiple perspectives. My cutouts resemble mental landscapes, often with a sense of motion, and are designed or recreated for specific locations. I aim to build a visual space that invites viewers to activate their imaginations through conversations involving each individual’s life and cultural background.
Nick: How did you first start creating?
Leah: I’m a painter by training. However, the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico horrified me. Watching it spread across the Gulf led me to create my first installation with hundreds of birds and creatures stuck in dirty tar-like oil. I titled it “Vulnerable Planet” to voice my thoughts. Since then, my work has focused on life and nature. I keep my sketchbooks to jot down ideas. If I don’t have a sketchbook handy, I use anything available to draw or make notes. Sometimes my old sketches initiate new ideas for future works that might be two- or three-dimensional site-specific creations.
Nick: What are some of your inspirations?
Leah: I take inspiration from many sources and directions. Striking visual images always stir my imagination. For example, when I see images or videos of huge wildfires with fire fighters and other people or animals at the sites, I feel the heat. The silhouetted human and animal figures in hot colors can look like an infinite screen. Contrasts inspire me to create works like Art Spot’s “You and Me.” I’m also interested in the figures in classic sculpture and paintings that make viewers want to know the back stories.
Nick: What are some of your favorite Columbus spots and why?
Leah: My favorite place is Antrim Park. I like to stroll around the lake and view the many surrounding trees, woods and plants. Other people and their dogs walk and fish there. I see ducks and bugs in the water, and birds fly around. Many activities happen simultaneously. Each time I go there, I observe changes in the season, the sky, the lighting, the plants, the colors and the reflections in the water and so many other interesting things.
Nick: What did you create for Art Spot? What can you tell us about it?
Leah: When I started to create “You and Me” for Art Spot, I thought about the wild fires around the globe. The lives of the people and animals near the fires were devastated. I chose thin MDF board that can stand upright on its own but can also be suspended in a floating format. I used orange, red and yellow colors to represent fire and heat. The cutout figures in lines and shapes are merged in each panel to suggest the inseparable link between humans and the earth. I repeat the image four times to push a sense of duration. For this GCAC window installation, in addition to cutting out the panels, I built and painted the panel stands and tailored the scale and colors to work with the site. I also created the strip of creatures floating like a cloud above the four cutout panels to indicate the sky space. From a distance, viewers will see the colors, patterns and airborne energy. When looking closer, viewers will see details that suggest elements of nature such as plants, trees, water and fire, buildings and structures, etc. I want to express the fragility of our earth, sky and lives. All of us together—You and I—need to make efforts to protect and care for our shared environment.
Nick: What’s the best thing about the Columbus arts scene right now?
Leah: The Art Spot project is the best thing happening right now. GCAC and the Ohio Arts Council are great supporters of the arts scene in Columbus.
See the work of Leah Wong and a dozen other Columbus-based artists in the Art Spot installations, displayed now through June 2023 downtown and in the Short North. To learn more about the artists, their installations and where to find them, visit columbusmakesart.com/artspot.