First Lady Presents
February 2021: Gwaylon Leaf
The arts and culture industry has been massively impacted by the pandemic, yet despite this struggle artists and organizations in Nevada are holding fast to innovation and reinvention, responding to unprecedented and uncharted challenges. This creative commitment continues to innovate and inspire us. I believe arts and culture can lead us out of crisis through strengthening the human spirit and connecting our communities through shared vision and values.
‘The First Lady Presents…’ launched in February 2020 with the concept of utilizing the Governor’s Mansion as a year-round exhibition venue to present contemporary Nevadan art alongside historic artifacts from the Nevada State Museum collection. In the Fall of 2020, our program partners initiated pandemic-responsive steps to continue our commitment while reaching audiences safely.
I am filled with hope in relaunching ‘The First Lady Presents…’ as an on-line arts education program in partnership with the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, and independent art consultant, Mark Salinas. Join us every month for a fun and insightful comparison of an artifact selected by a museum curator for the Curator’s Corner program with the artwork of a contemporary Nevadan artist.
I am especially proud to launch ‘The First Lady Presents…’ this February in recognition of the 2021 Lunar New Year as it gives me the opportunity to share my own Chinese heritage with you. Early Chinese immigrants helped build our state through mining, railroad construction, and wood cutting. These contributions are an integral part of our state history and cultural heritage as you will see in the items presented in this month’s Curator’s Corner at the Nevada State Museum.
Together as Nevadans, let us study the past, honor the present, and envision the future.
This month, it is my pleasure to present… Gwalyon Leaf!
To make art is to have a conversation with one’s self. Every painting is a part of a larger conversation manifesting as abstract symbols and diagrams. Each one is a recording of thoughts and emotions translated into a lexicon derived from abstract shape and color. Memories of days heavy with fog and infinitely deep skies become the substrate for thoughts manifest from talisman and stream-of-consciousness calligraphies.
I blur the boundaries of East and West.
In calligraphy, ideas become symbols and those symbols transmute into any number of concepts. I’ve always held a deep appreciation for Asian calligraphy. I see the characters not as poetic words, but as expressionist abstract paintings. The skin and bone of the characters dance about the surface of the painting, playing between the leaves of a tree or flying among the peaks of mountains and swimming through the currents of streams and rivers. Fields of color represent feelings and moods through infinite skies and veils of weather. Foggy days become curtains, hiding distraction and giving space to contemplate on the significance of time and space. The cerulean facade of the sky gives way at night to the inky vastness of space so one may peer into celestial illuminations.
– Gwaylon Leaf
In order to endure the ongoing changes, collapses, and consolidations of our social, work, and home environments, we often find ourselves needing to ‘take a breather.’ By now, we have all read or tested some recommended way of pandemic self-care during these troubling times. Perhaps it is a walk around the block or some small at-home daily ceremony. Perhaps it is closing one’s eyes and being still. Allowing the window of one’s mind to open and have all thoughts enter and exit peacefully. To breathe.
I visualize this practice as having a fixed frame pointed to the sky where I acknowledge only what may pass through it. I describe it as a continually moving composition where my squiggly thoughts and pulsing emotions enter and then (hopefully!) fade away.
Gwaylon Leaf, a first-generation Chinese-American painter based in Las Vegas, has a favorable manner of recording such spiritual abstractions with paint. Channeling his own self-identity, which includes Swedish and Danish ancestry, his brush conjures and captures fleeting moments of line and space with color. The depth of his conceptual canvases is deeply rooted in Eastern and Western aesthetics and its history.
His work holds dual residency in states of Taoism and Twombly. His abstractions immediately strike one as both ancient and contemporary and resemble memory-drawn maps of an inexplicable stellar journey. In many ways his works on paper are journal-like expressions of brave inner-explorations, recording his own voyages of dualism and diversity. Of being present in the moment.
Ghost Trap (North Wall), 2018
Photo Courtesy Double Scoop
Luminous Fog, 2020
Photo Courtesy Gwaylon Leaf
Sunset Lily (Uprooted #3), 2019
Photo Courtesy Gwaylon Leaf
Mark Steel Wool Salinas is an independent art consultant in Reno, Nevada. He serves as a board member for the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, Nevada Arts Council, and Americans for the Arts Public Art Network. He is the former founding Director of the Carson City Department of Arts & Culture. Salinas provides public art consulting, creative content, and program management for clients including Smart Growth America, Forecast Public Art, and the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Along with First Lady Kathy Sisolak and the Nevada State Museum, he established ‘The First Lady presents…’ and serves as art curator.