Newsmakers 2013: Toledoan Leslie Adams’ portraits are in demandWritten by Matt Liasse | | firstname.lastname@example.org
This year has been a big one for Toledo artist Leslie Adams.
In March, Adams attended a private event in Washington, D.C. where she celebrated being one of 48 artists included in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The show is on display until Feb. 23 at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
“What’s really nice is the location of the exhibition,” Adams said. “It’s right near the Hall of Presidents and so it’s amazing to go through the portrait collection and see George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and then Bill Clinton and George Bush and beyond that, I see my own drawing. That was a little freaky experience but a wonderful one.”
Adams’ drawing, one of the 3,000 pieces entered, is a charcoal-drawn self-portrait featuring her sitting in front of MRI images of her brain. Adams was inspired, among other things, by a quote from Michelangelo: “A man paints with his brains, not his hands.” Adams, who suffered a minor stroke in the past, had access to images of her brain, which she used in the drawing.
Adams heard about the competition while she was a member of the Portrait Society of America. The triennial juried exhibition invites works in traditional media, including oil paintings, drawings and photographs, according to a news release.
The competition, which Adams said brought her a lot of exposure, was started after Virginia Outwin Boochever left $2 million to the gallery when she died.
“The vision of Virginia Outwin Boochever was to increase awareness about portraiture as a vibrant art form,” said Wendy Wick Reaves, interim director of the museum, in a news release.
In March, Adams said she was motivated by Boochever’s vision.
“I think so many people walk in museums, and with realistic portraiture … they think this is done from somebody a long time ago,” Adams said.
“I think what she means is that there are still living, breathing people that paint portraits. It’s not a lost art; it’s not a dying art. It’s still a profession and it’s just an amazing profession to be in.”
Adams said she would be interested in entering the contest again.
“It’ll be sad when it ends,” Adams said. “It’s been really a turning point in my career.”
Also this year, Adams won the grand prize at the International Portrait Competition, sponsored by the Portrait Society of America in April. Adams won $12,000 in the competition and it was the first time a drawing won the contest and the second time a woman won.
Adams has worked in Downtown Toledo for close to 20 years after growing up in the South End. She has spent most of her time the past few months painting political figures. Adams has completed portraits of Paul Gillmor for the Ohio Senate and Justice Francis Sweeney and Judge Robert Morton Duncan for the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Recently, Adams’ portrait of former Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Jo Ann Davidson was unveiled at the Ohio Statehouse. According to a news release, Adams was commissioned to paint the portrait by the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board through the Ladies’ Gallery Committee chaired by former Attorney General and Auditor of Ohio Betty Montgomery.
Adams said each portrait requires an average of 400 hours of work. Adams employs a traditional technique of portrait painting, which consists of a lengthy process of drawing and painting multiple layers of flesh tones and light. Much of this process is spent really getting to know the subject, physically and on a personal level, Adams said.
In 2014, Adams will do another portrait for the Supreme Court of Ohio and two portraits for a new hospital at Ohio State University.