Leslie Adams – “20 North / 30 Years”

Leslie Adams
Toledo, Ohio

Leslie Adams (photo courtesy of the artist)
Leslie Adams (photo courtesy of the artist)

Artist Biography
Leslie Adams received her B.F.A. in Drawing and Printmaking from the University of Toledo (Toledo, Ohio) in 1989; she received her M.F.A. in Painting and Drawing from the New York Academy of Art (New York, New York) in 1992, through a full-tuition scholarship, The Grand Prize, which she was awarded in the 1990 International Collegiate Competition in Figure Drawing, sponsored by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additionally, Adams studied at the Froebel College of Roehampton Institute of Higher Education, now Roehampton University (London, England).

As an established portrait artist, Adams has been commissioned to paint more than a dozen official portraits for the State of Ohio. In addition to painting two official gubernatorial portraits, she has portrayed many leaders of the House of Representatives, Senate and the Supreme Court of Ohio. Leslie has also received commissions from respected universities, corporations and institutions throughout the United States, entering her work into the collections of the Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), the University of Michigan Medical School (Ann Arbor, Michigan) and many more. Her other commissioned works include the sixty-eight-foot-wide, multi-figure mural at St. Johns Jesuit High School (Toledo, Ohio), a three-hundred-foot-wide mural for Harley-Davidson (Toledo, Ohio) and various exterior murals for The Oliver House (Toledo, Ohio).

"Creating Dreams, from the Handwritten Dreams Project" oil on linen by Leslie Adams (Photo by Tim Thayer)
“Creating Dreams, from the Handwritten Dreams Project” oil on linen by Leslie Adams (Photo by Tim Thayer)

Adams has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally in invitational and juried group exhibitions such as American Masters, Salmagundi Club (New York, New York), 2017; 2nd Biennial Juried Exhibition, Ohio Arts Council, Riffe Gallery (Columbus, Ohio), 2017; ArtPrize, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 2010, 2015, 2016 and 2017; International ARC Salon Exhibition, European Museum of Modern Art (Barcelona, Spain), 2015; Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2013 Exhibition, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.), 2013; International Touring Art Exhibition, Novosibirsk State Art Museum (Novosibirsk, Russia) and Tomsk Regional Art Museum (Tomsk, Russia), Móra Ferenc Museum (Szeged, Hungary), Csongrád Town Hall (Csongrád Town, Hungary), 1999-2000; multiple Take Home a Nude exhibitions at Sotheby’s New York (New York) between 2001 and 2009; eight iterations of the annual National Midyear Exhibition at The Butler Institute of American Art (Youngstown, Ohio) from 2001 to 2014 (Honorable Mention, 2014); as well as sixteen installations of the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio) from 1994 to 2011, earning her numerous awards including the National League of American Pen Women Award, Canaday Award for Outstanding Painting, the Athena Art Society Award and multiple First Awards. Her solo exhibitions include Leslie Adams, Drawn from Life at the Toledo Museum of Art in 2012-2013 and The Handwritten Dreams Project, an interactive exhibit first installed at The University of Toledo Center for the Visual Arts (Toledo, Ohio) in 2018.

Her work has regularly appeared in numerous publications since 1998. Among her many professional affiliations and honors are a position with Art in Public Places for the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo (Ohio), the Board of Trustees of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies (Toledo, Ohio), the Executive Committee of the International Women’s Forum, the Ohio Advisory Group of the National Museum for Women in the Arts, an Ohio Governor’s Award for the Arts and a Special Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts from the Toledo Museum of Art.

“Creating Dreams” installation view, featuring custom chalkboard frame

In 1993, Adams became one of the first tenants in the second-floor artist studios of the original 20 North Gallery building, located at 22 N. St. Clair Street in Downtown Toledo, Ohio. She has been a frequent exhibitor at 20 North Gallery in principal exhibits such as A Woman’s View (1996), Sculpture and Drawing (1998), 20 North Gallery Group (2000), Tenth Year Exhibit (2003) and 20 North / 20 Years (2012). Throughout the years, Adams has been a staunch friend of the gallery and its first Art Director, the late Peggy Grant. Adams serves as one of the trustees to the advisory board for the Adam Grant Art Estate, managed by 20 North Gallery.

To learn more about Leslie Adams’ artistic career and professional history, visit her website at leslieadams.com.

Artist Statement
People. Stories. Art. These are my passions. As an artist, I have devoted my career to portraying the corporate, academic, judicial, medical, religious, cultural, and civic leaders of our day. This experience has taught me that portraits can tell meaningful stories about humanity and those individuals who contribute to our world in unique, daring, and selfless ways. But the two works presented in this exhibition tell my story. These are two of the many of the works I have created in the past decade since I was honored to present my solo exhibition, Leslie Adams, Drawn from Life at the Toledo Museum of Art. These works tell part of my story: Self-Portraits. Part of my autobiography told not on the pages of a book, or in images on film, but with charcoal on paper and paint on canvas. These works invite the viewer into my world and imagination. More importantly, however, these works offer a personal thank you note to the people, places, and institutions in Ohio and far, far beyond that have helped me fulfill my dream of becoming an artist…those that have shaped my career and my life.

Detail view of "Creating Dreams, from the Handwritten Dreams Project" oil on linen, by Leslie Adams
Detail view of “Creating Dreams, from the Handwritten Dreams Project” oil on linen, by Leslie Adams

Creating Dreams, from the Handwritten Dreams Project
Drawing is my first love, but I’m infatuated with cursive – with signatures, poetry, and long letters from friends – anything written in one’s own hand. And I love dreams. I love the dreamers of dreams. A self-portrait, Handwritten Dreams celebrates the hopes and aspirations that we, as children and adults, universally share. This is the foundation of the Handwritten Dreams Project – an installation and interactive work that provides the space and time where viewers can pause, reflect, and write their own dreams on paper. Each then pins their hopes to an endlessly growing “wall of dreams” in the symbolically staged 1970’s classroom that I remember as a child – St. Patrick of Heatherdowns School in Toledo. For as a young girl, I was taught to be curious, inspired to dream, and encouraged to record my dreams in perfect penmanship. It made them real. I am so fortunate that my dream of becoming an artist came true, and my goal as an artist is to inspire others to believe in possibility.

During the creation of the monumental eighteen-foot triptych, Handwritten Dreams, my young doppelganger, Teagan, came to pose for me in my studio. While sitting at one of the many vintage desks I had collected for the project, I captured her in a private moment writing her dreams. The painting illustrates something that is becoming more and more common in my work – images within images – drawings within drawings, paintings within paintings. As you will see, my previous works have examined the idea of time perception, in that they reflect Einstein’s belief that there is no true division between past and future, there is rather, a single existence. He wrote, “…for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.” My works use the visual device of a continuous narrative to depict a series of events in the same story line that are present in the same space yet unfold over time.

Portrait of a Young American Artist, from The Rooms of Wonder series
Portrait of a Young American Artist is part of The Rooms of Wonder series, which was created for the artist’s solo exhibition, Leslie Adams, Drawn from Life, at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA). The exhibition, part of the Museum’s “Fall Season of Portraiture” in 2012, included works focused on Adams’ own biography and people and places meaningful to her artistic process and its development. The Rooms of Wonder series was originally inspired by a lecture offered by then TMA Director, Brian Kennedy during which he shared a favorite photograph of a young girl, Jane Tillotson, on stage in the TMA Peristyle. Dr. Kennedy discussed the sense of awe and wonder in the girl’s expression and posture. In creating Drawn from Life, Leslie thought about her relationship with, and love for, the Toledo Museum of Art and the artists in its collection, as well as her time as a student in the Museum’s Saturday classes.

"Portrait of a Young American Artist, from the Rooms of Wonder Series" charcoal and white chalk on Rives BFK, by Leslie Adams
“Portrait of a Young American Artist, from the Rooms of Wonder Series” charcoal and white chalk on Rives BFK, by Leslie Adams (photo by Tim Thayer)

Like the works The Cloister and Atties’s Anatomy Academy – two of Leslie’s works from the same series in the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art, Portrait of a Young American Artist is a work of magic realism. The triptych, employing the structure of a multiple-panel narrative, unites the memories and dreams of the past with the present, as well as those of the future.

Portrait of a Young American Artist captures a defining moment from her ongoing story and her development and transformation as an artist. Leslie writes, “While attending graduate school in New York City in the early 90s, I had the opportunity to study with Vincent Desiderio. I remember him stating that ‘an artist doesn’t paint for people, an artist paints for museums.’ Vincent had his first work in the Met when he was 29. This was profoundly inspiring to me.” Portrait of a Young American Artist is unique to The Rooms of Wonder series in that it is presented in an exterior setting – yet it continues the theme of the series – her homage to those sacred places where her dreams have been nurtured. She finds the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City simultaneously both monumental and intimate – filled with history, tradition, and great works of art. It represents for her all that to which art and artists aspire.

Leslie Adams’ previous 20 North Gallery exhibits:

For purchase inquiries, please contact 20 North Gallery:
419-241-2400  or  info@20northgallery.com