Rollin Leonard’s Liquid Portraits Meld the Digital and Organic
The starting point for Rollin Leonard’s newest series was the all-too-familiar stock photos of dew drops clinging to surfaces—be it a flower, stem, or a spider web—and a desire to find a way to use the visual distortions they create. Once applied to imagery of the human body, Leonard’s main subject matter for the past several years, the reproduced drops are merged with flesh in an unsettling yet evocative way. These fragments were composed for a tripartite show first at Transfer Gallery in Brooklyn and later at Paris’s XPO Gallery, and concurrently online at cloaque.org. Aptly titled “NEW PORTRAITURE,” the show’s physical and digital environments seek a contemporary interpretation of portraiture, one that pushes the limits both of the genre and of the materials and conventions the artist employs.
Though the abstracted, fleshy works suggest the vocabulary of Photoshop filters—Liquify, Blur, Spherize, Skew, Warp—they are actually entirely handmade through a painstaking process. For the main works on display, Leonard spent weeks working underneath a glass pane, physically pushing water around with an eyedropper and using repellant to manipulate his photographs. The altered images were then printed on vinyl, which he coated with resin to mimic the extruded surface of water droplets. The show also includes a series of large-scale portraits overlaid and scored with an isometric matrix that can be folded up, as well as a series of humanoid GIFs. All of these sculptural, photographic objects are further skewed by individual perception, suggesting the extreme malleability of the human form in the context of our digital era.
At first glance, Leonard’s fluid forms retain very little of the actual people behind their warped surfaces, yet they evoke the experience of unconsciously finding faces in our environment—glimpsed in cracks on the wall or in ephemeral cloud formations. This whimsical reference keeps the somewhat tortured compositions from seeming violent or disgusting. For Leonard, the body is a primal reference point for all our experiences and perceptions, yet we no longer apprehend its image in the same way with the onslaught of digital media. The force of the work lies in the tense dichotomy he sets up: between seductively visceral liquids and jewel-like forms, and the subtle critique of the myriad ways we distort our digital selves.
“NEW PORTRAITURE” is on view at XPO Gallery, Paris, May 28–Jun. 23.