Leslie Trewyn knew what she was destined to be from the very start. An artist.
Born Leslie Christenson in Wausau, Wisconsin it was her aunt Louise Mayhall who was an early inspiration. Aunt Louise was an art teacher and artist. And Leslie made up her mind upon graduating high school and heading off to college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, that she too would follow the same creative career path.
“My aunt, as an artist was a weaver,” Leslie said “not much older than me, and a real influence when I was young. She had a beautiful contemporary house when nobody else did in the 50’s, I patterned my whole life after her. I never varied. I went to college, and was determined to be an artist and an art teacher, and that was it, I never looked either way.”
In 7th grade Leslie was already painting murals on the walls of her mother’s friends homes, and at her dentist’s office.
“We grew up on a farm,” Leslie said “so you see a lot of chickens, sheep and cows in my works. The red barn series is based on a mill in the town of Nelsonville, Wisconsin which is where my dad grew up, and it always meant a lot to me.”
She has different versions of the red barn.
“Sometimes is has a water wheel, sometimes it doesn’t. At times the wheel counterbalances the architectural straight lines.”
The Christenson’s moved near Green Bay.
“My dad was a teacher in DePere,” Leslie said “but also wanted a farm, so we lived on a farm, and I took lessons from anyone who was supposed to be an artist. Six kids in our family, I was the oldest, and I was the artist, my sister was the smart one, my brother was the runner, and we on down the line we each had our designations…so I had to live up being an ‘artist.’ (laugh) I majored in art at Madison, then taught art for thirty eight years in Hustisford, first grade through twelfth.”
Leslie met her future husband while in high school.
“I was a senior,” she said “and when we first started going together he had never been on a farm. And he just loved it, thought it was the most romantic thing, just like my father. I bought a calf for him, put a big bow around his neck, set him on his front porch, and gave it to him. That started it. We eventually got married, bought a farm just outside of Waupun, both taught and ran the farm and raised the kids.”
After Leslie’s husband suddenly passed away at the age of 49, Leslie stayed in the contemporary home they’d built together for another eleven years.
“Until one day while driving through Green Lake,” Leslie said “I thought I could live here. There was a lot of art happening here, and a lot of people interested in art. So I sold the farm, bought this home, and built this studio.”
The colors Leslie uses are vibrant.
“The painting is the thing,” Leslie said “I just need something to inspire me. After my husband passed away, and going on by myself, I did a whole series I called ‘the strong woman,’ reflecting on being alone, but being strong. It’s something that gets me going. I don’t try to reproduce something that I saw, but rather I’m inspired by what I saw. I graduated from Madison in the 60’s, and everyone was painting very abstractly, and I was influenced by that style, like that of Albert Burri who worked with collage, putting burlap, papers and metals into the canvasses…I really loved that. Eventually I got to meet Fritz Sholder who was a well known artist Native American artist from Santa Fe, his works are very large, figurative pieces.”
Ten years ago, Leslie met Tom Detweiler, who is a retired professor of environmental studies at the University of Michigan.
“Tom and I went on an eighteen day walking trip through the Cotswold’s in England which inspired another series of landscapes and farm animals. Not long ago we went to Croatia, and I painted several works based on Dubrovnik which is a walled city on the Adriatic Sea. It was attacked during the Serbian War, bombed from the mountains.”
Leslie paints approximately 50 works every year.
“About one a week,” Leslie said. “This has been going on for five decades. When I was teaching I didn’t get as much done, but I was showing my work all over from Chicago to Denver to Ann Arbor. We just got back from Door County, and I couldn’t wait to get back! To get into the studio and get to work.”
Over the years Leslie has done several triptychs, or a sequence of three paintings.
“I’ve started work on a series that will eventually have six pieces to it,” Leslie said “whose theme is the destruction of the environment. I’ll get back to it eventually, but I have to do what I feel like doing at that moment.”
Traveling the world has inspired her different successions of works.
“We went to eastern Europe,” Leslie said pointing to other works on her studio walls. “Those are influenced by, and are my interpretations of Prague. When we went to Portugal I thought the patterns of the landscape looked just like my paintings (laugh) rather than the other way around. We went to Scotland, and I painted this particular town, but of course it’s not really that specific place, but rather my interpretation. It’s the painting. I have to balance the blacks, and whites, and shapes, and get enough curving line.”
Not every painting Leslie creates just flows.
“Some I’ve nearly worried to death,” she said “because it just wasn’t working, I kept changing it, and changing it. That’s the thing. You have to know when it’s working. You can teach art, and I’ve taught a lot adult art classes, but if you don’t ever ‘get’ what makes it work or not work, what makes it come to life. You can’t teach that. The painting has to come to life. I think it has to begin to breathe. And sometimes it just doesn’t. And you start over, and over again. But when it does work, sometimes I have to leave the studio (laugh) I get so excited!”
Back to ‘square-one’ is without fail, an option.
“I love to paint, I have time to do it,” Leslie says “if I ruin something, or if I do something to a painting that isn’t working, I feel perfectly fine starting over. I’ll paint over what I’d done, then start drawing into it again until I start to get something that looks interesting.”
Her dog, Gus is always underfoot in the studio.
“He and his ball were an inspiration on a painting I started a year or so ago,” Leslie said “it tells about how I work…or don’t work. The dog and the ball, and I just let the painting alone for a long while. I didn’t think I would paint over it, but it wasn’t working, and I didn’t know what to do with it. Then part of a poem by Raymond Carver came to me, and a few of its verses are, ‘And did you get what you wanted from this life even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself loved, to feel myself loved on the earth.’ I had always loved the poem. The line, ‘did you get what you wanted from this life?’ and all Gus wanted in life was the ball. And I was finally able to finish the painting.”