Whether painted on surfboards, skateboard decks or rectangular metal sheets, Phil Leonard’s handsome geometric abstractions look fast. Not that his work looks like it was easy to execute; the complex layers of color and pattern, sprayed in automotive urethane paints, clearly take both skill and time. Having started out painting cars and bikes, however, Leonard understands how to create the appearance of dynamism and speed – even when something is standing still.
In this small, lively show opening Nov. 30 at The Press Club, strong vertical lines crossed by diagonals appear in almost every piece, accentuating the length and blade-like shape of the boards and decks. Painting on curved surfaces – a challenge for artists – is Leonard’s preferred mode.
Though prolific, the artist works alone, doing virtually all fabrication and preparation himself, including rebuilding the damaged boards he gets from a friend’s surf shop in Santa Cruz before he transforms them into works of art. Combining years of experimentation and learning by doing with a more conventional education (he graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a bachelor’s in art in 2009), Leonard has developed a highly original sense of color. Motifs that repeat throughout his work include sharply-angled shapes that evoke the chrome trim on ’60s muscle cars, cascading ribbons, and layered, interlaced lines that make you think of a bird’s-eye view of futuristic highway interchanges.
Leonard paints without drawings, improvising as he goes. The impression is of an exuberant originality: a love of car culture and an enthusiasm for graffiti.