“Op Art” – this is how Angela Leach’s art is usually described. Op stems from the word optical, referring to optical illusion. The illusion in Op Art is movement – look at any Op Art and you’ll swear the canvas is moving. This is intentional and a natural consequence of Op Art’s denial of the flatness of the picture plane. In the case of Angela Leach, you get the added sense of texture. It is as if you are watching a beautifully weaved cover being thrown over a bed or a coil of rope that is about to slither loose from the canvas.
The visual allusion to bed cover or coil of rope is co-incidental in so far as it is not what Angela Leach sets out to paint. Op Art is about eliminating the subject; the painting is not about what is being painted. The optical illusion comes from changing what the eye is used to seeing. If you eliminate the subject of the painting (the positive space) and all the other elements around it (the negative space), then you also eliminate all reference to how we see what’s in front of us.
What we do see when we look at a Leach work is the color waves. They are placed onto the canvas with a confidence that refuses to give your eyes a break (another Op art trait – just think of those mirrors in a fun house). Leach spent a number of years employed as a hand weaver for a coat manufacturer and this experience inadvertently slips into her art, both in her choice of color (the color spectrum is often drawn from the yarn sitting on the shelves of the factory where she worked) and in her application of basic weaving principles – order and repetition – which have been incorporated into her unique “mathematical system” of color placement.
The systematic approach to color placement is key to Leach’s art. Color is not an emotional or intellectual conveyor for Leach, but rather the means to a pattern, much in the same way a weaver would weave a pattern for a coat, a sweater, a blanket. As such, the question of “what color comes next” is automatic for Leach. In fact, when I spoke to Leach about color, she described herself as someone who is “afraid of color”, someone who is “sitting on the fence” as far as color was concerned. Simply put, Leach begins with a grouping of colors she likes at which point her “system” takes over. It is as pragmatic and automatic as that, the only concerns then being the size of the canvas (which will determine the size of the color waves) and the time constraint (when does this canvas have to be ready for).
I also asked Leach: “What do you want people to feel when they look at your art?” She laughed and said that she had stopped wondering about this the moment she realized the absolute split that existed between those who loved her work and those who hated it. An interesting point she made about those who hated it was the oftentimes expressed “I’ve seen that before” dismissal.
This made me think about the question of originality in art. There’s the famous quote that “After God, everything’s a knock-off” and I believe this is true about almost everything we think, do, and experience in our lives. After all, originality is essentially our personal interpretation of something that has already been done or thought about. In the work of Leach, originality stems from her experience as a weaver. This personal experience is then conveyed into her work and while the question of originality is a treatise all unto itself, we should not be so quick to dismiss something as “unoriginal” without taking the time to understand the subtleties that separate it from things we have seen before. Feel free to dislike Leach’s work because it leaves you feeling dizzy, or it just doesn’t speak to you, or you just don’t see the point – all legitimate points of view, but unoriginal? Look again.