Born in Brooklyn in 1931, the distinguished painter David A. Leffel spent eleven years of his childhood battling a bone disease in various hospitals. He used this time to hone his drawing abilities. This passion eventually led him to enroll in Parsons School of Design, as well as Fordham University. At the Art Students League of New York, he flourished under Frank Mason and ultimately taught there for 25 years. In 1992 Leffel and his partner, the distinguished painter Sherrie McGraw, moved to Taos, where their studios overlook the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Well-known to art students worldwide through his bestselling books and videos, Leffel conducts workshops throughout the country and recently launched his own annual awards program for excellence in painting.
Leffel is not at a loss for words when it comes to his philosophy of painting. He seeks to understand the process of painting in the way a theoretical physicist seeks to understand the universe. In fact, he does not paint people or fruit, but quarks and electrons, waves and particles. His objects only appear to be solid when you step back to where you can no longer see the motion. He calls this process of the artist seeking to comprehend nature “intelligence.” It is a key aspect of Leffel’s philosophy.
Leffel’s collectors respond strongly to the timeless, humane qualities in his work. In conversation with a collector, Leffel once mentioned how his paintings are about light and shadow. “Oh,” said the collector, “I thought they were about quiet.”
This connection between art and life is not limited to the attitudes of collectors: It is fundamental to Leffel’s philosophy. He asserts, “The more you invest in anything, the more you get out of it. That’s true in any area of life. That kind of attitude is always looking for a better solution: What’s stronger, what’s simpler? It requires insight to find a beautiful, consistent, structural unity. Like a good musical composition, everything dovetails, nothing is extraneous; everything functions for the good of the whole. It takes tremendous energy and commitment.
“When I first started painting I just thought it was something I’d like to do — and if I could make some money at it, then I didn’t have to get a job! As I went further into it, I needed confirmation that the things I was discovering in paint were true. I found that if it was true in painting, it was also true in life. Painting is like an interlocking set of relationships — color, edges, values, thick and thin, etc. Life is the same. Everything is interrelated. All of life is like one big, interlocking relationship. Everything you do has a consequence to everything else.”
His books in print are Self-Portraits: A Visual Journey of Insight (Bright Light Publishing, 2008); An Artist Teaches: Reflections on the Art of Painting (Bright Light Publishing,2004); and Oil Painting Secrets from a Master (with Linda Cateura, 1984, reprinted 1995).
(Excerpts from the article “David A Leffel: The Elegance of Paradox” by Rachel Wolf, Fine Art Conoisseur, October 2011)