by Susannah Morgan
Art history is full of irreverent painters for whom the process of creation was more important and more interesting than the finished product. If you’ve ever stood in front of a Pollock painting long enough, you can see boot prints where he walked across the canvas, and candy wrappers that fell out of his pocket and were enveloped in the paint. Central Texas artist Christopher St. Leger follows in the footsteps of these process painters. He is an artist who is constantly evolving, always searching for the moments where he is least in control, for it is in those accidental moments that the magic happens.
“When I am working on a painting I have to mildly destroy it”
St. Leger’s recognizable visual style is achieved through unorthodox painting techniques and processes. “When I am working on a painting I have to mildly destroy it,” says St. Leger. “Without completely destroying it.” He seeks out the breaking point in different ways, spilling things directly onto the canvas, smudging the paint, or applying the paint in an unusual way. He fashions tools from what he has in the studio. Paint is applied using a paintbrush, a floor mop, or even scraped onto the canvas using a spare piece of plexiglass. He adds life to his work and achieves a gritty, unexpected, and perfectly imperfect quality in his paintings by staying in the moment and being open to where the work will take him. St. Leger is not precious about his work—nothing is sacred—and he revels in the process. The finished painting is the result of experimentation, exploration, and imperfections—“a happy accident” to use his own words.
St. Leger has worked in watercolor for the majority of his career. It has been a successful medium for his approach to painting—he finds an element of randomness in watercolor. Colors will blend and bleed and nothing is permanent. He has pushed the medium to the edge of what is possible. After many years exhibiting almost exclusively in watercolor and evolving with each show, he reached a moment when there was no more uncertainty in the medium. For a painter like St. Leger, uncertainty and change are vital to producing interesting and authentic work. It was then that he moved to working in oils.
Oil painting is a more deliberate medium than watercolor. Being relatively new to the medium, St. Leger finds working with oil uncomfortable and challenging. And that’s what makes it exciting. For the past year he has experimented in oil painting techniques and followed the process where it leads. He has strived to embrace the deliberateness of oil painting and push it in unexpected directions. The resulting work in his spring show at Gallery Shoal Creek is visual evidence of his truly creative process and an exciting evolutionary step in his career. St. Leger has come to see himself as a painter, not just a watercolorist or an oil painter.
Building a career painting luminous depictions of urban scenes and city streets, St. Leger elevates gritty realness and transforms it into a gorgeous scene from a dream. The subject matter is fairly nondescript street corners, dark and rainy city streets, or an ordinary neighborhood—one won’t find recognizable architecture or landmarks in his work. The scenes could be Amsterdam or Austin. This speaks to our universal humanity. As human beings, we have a very strong sense of place. We identify with the city where we live to the point that it can become difficult to imagine life elsewhere.
St. Leger challenges the viewer to set aside preconceived notions of what a city looks like and asks us to view them through his eyes. There is comfort in discovering that whether you are in Austin or in Budapest, you will find commonality: buildings under construction, buses, and people. St. Leger’s new bank of work, Automotive, takes us on a ride “from the perspective of the experience of a passenger . . . exploring a city without a map. A joyride of attention on the visual.”
St. Leger challenges the viewer to set aside preconceived notions of what a city looks like and asks us to view them through his eyes.
If you are familiar with the artist’s watercolors, you will be pleased to know that the same luminosity is present in his oil paintings. This is a testament to
St. Leger’s strength as an artist. I wholeheartedly encourage viewers to explore these paintings with the same spirit in which they were created. Be open to uncertainty; embrace the unknown; seek out change. St. Leger is one of Austin’s most authentic talents. The work in this exhibition is joyful and gritty and real and will leave you feeling energized and inspired.