Introducing Artist No. 55 – Leah Kohlenberg

Leah Kohlenberg, Vice President and upcoming President of Portland Open Studios, took some time from her busy schedule and answered a few questions for us.

Art is now her main occupation, and she tells me she makes half of her income teaching art, half selling paintings.  But she didn’t get there through the normal channels.  Her arts education is as eclectic as she is.  “I am primarily self-taught, but I deeply value art education.  I take as many classes as I can, and learned a lot at the Gage Academy in Seattle, and PNCA in Portland.  I spent five years in Eastern Europe meeting and studying with some great artists:  Lado Pochkhua, from the Republic of Georgia (and lately, Brooklyn); Suren Nersisyan, from Armenia (and lately, LA);  Zara Manucharyan, and Hakob Hovannisyan, also great painters from Armenia;  And here in Portland, Don Bishop, who has taught me the little amount I know about plein air painting.

“I was not one of those kids who drew and painted growing up. I was a journalist in my previous life, and I loved it.  By the time I was 30, I’d worked for small dailies all over the country, helped cover the Hong Kong handover to China for Time Magazine in Hong Kong, and was sent to Mongolia on a Knight Fellowship to train local journalists.  Yet I still felt something was missing – perhaps the visual-spatial side?

“I moved back to the U.S., bought a fixer upper house, and immediately painted every wall in every room a different color. Someone came to visit and said ‘You are an artist.’  I denied it, but secretly began pulling out pieces of wood leftover from house projects, and began painting, using all that multicolored house paint.  I was hooked immediately.  I had no idea what I was doing – I couldn’t draw to save my life, though my painting was always a little bit better – but I vowed to learn.  That was 16 years ago.”

How she works:  “I work in layers – building paintings up from simple, but strongly contrasted bases, working in details on the top layers.  I love glazing!  I am trusting my initial strokes more, and letting them come through the final works.  I used to think they were messy.  And, well, they are … but that’s me, so I don’t fight that so much.”

Art is a discipline and a proper job.  You should do it whether you feel like it or not.  Don’t wait for the muse to strike.  Work, so the muse has plenty of opportunity to strike.

Her professional goal: “To be selling with five galleries around the world who keep me busy, including one in Berlin!  To be in museums before I die.”

She is currently working on several series which you will see if you visit her during the tour: “I just returned from a trip to Scotland and England, and I stayed on a farm, so I’m painting abstracted cows (very enjoyable) in oil. I’m also working an acrylic series of paintings of the city at night, as photographed by my boyfriend, Rob Forrester.  I love portraiture, too, so I have a half-finished painting of my friend Leslie Yates which I am vowing to finish. Too much to do!”

Speaking of the tour, “This year is going to be great!  I am sharing my studio with two fellow open studio-ites, the talented jeweler, Melissa Moline, and landscape painter/abstract artist Don Bishop.  We’ll have live music playing on the lawn outside, and a bar in the back.  Watch out, you might never leave!”

I’ll be there – will you?

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