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Luc Leestemaker: Reserve D’ Artiste – Review

However they may protest that all their artworks are their children, all artists have their favorites.

Some artists may recognize the enduring market value of certain works; most, however, recognize the importance of certain pieces to their development, whether as pivots or as pinnacles in the evolution of style and philosophy. As well, artists are generally advised to keep at least one example from every group of works they produce, for personal reference and ultimately for posterity. In this selection Luc Leestemaker has done all of the above, honoring his own preferences, the trajectory of his oeuvre, and the response of his growing audience – growing, that is, not just in size but in sophistication.

Leestemaker’s designation of such a “private reserve” is a proactive measure in the edification of his public. As an articulate educator and astute businessman as well as a skilled painter, he recognizes that the meaning of his art – an art based in the modern tradition of abstraction, with its open-ended imagery and interpretability – is finally determined by the feedback mechanism he shares with all those who regard that art seriously. In other words, this grouping is not an attempt to enforce a sense of priority within Leestemaker’s oeuvre, but to reflect it.

Are these the paintings most likely to enter museums, be reproduced, or fetch high prices at auction? There is no way to tell for sure, of course, but these are what Leestemaker both sees and feels are the cream of the crop – a choice, that is, born equally of sentiment and analysis. This balance between rational and passionate response is entirely appropriate to art in general, and abstract art in particular, at once honoring and transcending aesthetic standards and personal taste alike. This is more than Leestemaker’s “greatest hits;” it is a distillation of what he has accomplished to date.

What comprises this accomplishment? A manner that mediates between gesture and image, surface and atmosphere, light and line, shape and movement, space and texture, a deft balance of elements that pleases the eye without pandering to it, incorporates formulas without becoming formulaic, and engages art historical tropes without self-consciously aping them. This, reasonably enough, is truest in the latest work, but even the earliest work is remarkably free of epigonal imitation even as it works through the newly minted painter’s appreciation of specific models. Perhaps it has been the very catholicity of Leestemaker’s art historical grasp that has allowed him to find his own voice so quickly; the more influences an artist has, they say, the more original that artist is.

A constantly active, and sometimes prodigious, painter, Leestemaker has kept aside a large body of what he considers his “best” work until now. With his stature growing and demand for his art expanding, however, he has decided to go public, as it were, with this selection. He is half-hoping they’ll be slow to sell; like a father seeing a child off to college or to the altar, his pride and excitement in presenting these gems mingle with a sense of loss. But if making available these high points of his production means allowing them into the public discourse in a timely fashion, Leestemaker has little to regret in letting them free. Besides, he does plan to make more.