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Leah Nadeau - creating unique rhythm between chroma and contrast

Seattle, WA / United States

Leah Nadeau is a Seattle-based contemporary abstract artist known for her use of geometric compositions, bold color stories, and signature linework. She creates a unique rhythm between chroma and contrast as she paints, lending every painting an immediate sense of vitality. Her skills for discernment and visual memory have become finely tuned through years of travel, sketching, painting, and ideating, all of which became the foundations for her art career.

She began incorporating industry, architecture, and design into her work as a commentary on the societal imagery we consume both consciously and unconsciously. Her post-graduate education in film strengthened her ability to view the world from the outside in. Nadeau’s art is heavily influenced by the German Expressionist Movement in cinema, Rondocubism, and Gothic-style architecture. Her innovative techniques capture the frenetic feel of cityscapes in time gone by, the stasis of aerial landscapes over Europe and the United States, and the essence of the Mid-Century Modern Era.

Since the beginning of her art practice, she has been featured in both national and international juried exhibitions and four solo shows. Her paintings are on permanent display at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute in Detroit, Michigan. In 2021, Nadeau was commissioned by the city of Grosse Pointe, Michigan to participate in a public works installation now permanently featured on sidewalks in the heart of the city.

In a world that often favors the predictable, Nadeau strives to be a refreshing reminder of life lived with distinction. She is passionate about raising the voices of those who remain silent and standing up for the vulnerable as a result of her own experiences of facing stigma around mental health and chronic pain when growing up.You can find her in Washington relaxing with a cold brew coffee and her rescue dog, Gus.

Your art is defined by vibrant color blocking, energetic lines, and geometric compositions. How did you discover this unique style, and what draws you to express yourself through these specific elements in your paintings?

I think my influences come together to create my style from my past lived experiences and my upbringing. My parents are Baby Boomers and a lot of Mid-Century Modern designs and brands were part of my childhood- Pyrex and Tupperware come to mind in terms of color schemes like sage green and burn orange, and of course, the furniture from the 60s and 70s were very geometric and modern. My parents were in college in the 70s and some of the furniture they used in college would come with them to our home growing up. These influences paired with my infatuation with architecture seen while traveling really come together to define my style. I loved sketching while traveling across Europe both as a teenager and while I was an adult doing my master's degree. 

Travel, sketching, and ideating have played a crucial role in shaping your artistic foundation. Can you share how these experiences have influenced your creative process and allowed you to develop a discerning eye for visual memory?

I’ve always had a really good visual memory, and I’ll never forget how I figured out I had a visual memory talent, so to speak. I can see a car on the road once and remember its make and model indefinitely, and I thought that was normal until I mentioned it to a close friend and she was confused as to why she would memorize car makes. I thought everyone did that. Nope, that’s not really a thing people do, but that’s one of my hidden talents. Every day I collect shapes, color schemes, and lines throughout my day, and eventually refer back to them when I’m in my creative process.

Your post-graduate education in film has been a significant influence on your art. How do you translate elements from German Expressionist cinema and Gothic-style architecture into your paintings, and what aspects of these influences resonate most strongly with you?

You’ll see 99% of my works have black in them- black brushstrokes, black linework and some have harsh angular shapes. This is a nod to my fascination with the German Expressionist movement. I use painting as an escape from chronic pain; the black in my work is the layer of anguish that is underneath many of the playful landscapes. I have happiness and joy in my life but also pain, anguish, and sadness - and in art, you need all emotions to be true to the human experience. 

Artists during the expressionist movement used their art as political protest. That resonates with me because art is my lifeboat, and I use it to express myself similarly. We live in a time of political unrest now, and I like to think I can use my art to communicate frustration, helplessness, and isolation- just as artists in the Expressionist Era did. 

The frenetic feel of cityscapes, aerial landscapes, and the essence of the Mid-Century Modern Era are captured in your innovative techniques. Can you elaborate on how you convey the essence and emotions of these different subjects through your artwork?

I think the busy cityscapes in my work represent the innerworkings of my mind. It’s a busy place in there, but when I make art, it quiets the overthinking and overprocessing, and I go from overstimulation to focused within minutes of picking up a brush or pen or whichever tool I’m using. 

Cities have that rushed, quick-paced feeling, and pairing it with energetic colors can amplify that feeling in my work. I love taking colors from the Bahaus era and pairing it with my busy abstract compositions - they come out looking very Mid-Century Modern. Originally, my intention wasn’t to create Mid-century Modern cityscape work, it just kept coming out that way onto the canvas and it made sense because I’m highly inspired by that era of design. 

Your paintings are highly sought after, and you've sold over 300 original pieces directly from your website. How do you maintain a balance between meeting demand and staying true to your artistic vision and values? 

I struggle with this like any artist, and I think the key is to combine what you love creating and what you know people like collecting. There will always be pieces that I make at times because I know they will sell. For every piece I make for a customer that isn’t the art I want to be creating, I make a piece just for myself. I learned this early on in my practice when a lot of my earnings were from commissions. Between commissions I took a break to paint what I wanted, not what my customer wanted, and it really helped stay true to my vision. 

Your art has been featured in juried exhibitions, solo shows, and public works installations. How do these various platforms impact the way you present your work, and how does each setting contribute to the narrative and message behind your art?

I think my favorite way to present my work is on social media because it’s informal, and I’m being open and honest with my clients and the “followers” on my social media. I can be raw and vulnerable in this space I’ve created, and they love to see me in my element. I do shows and public installations, mostly because it helps my resume and further my career in terms of exposure, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world to do. I love to connect with people through storytelling, and it’s easiest to do that online. That’s why I love being an independent artist. 

Your artist statement emphasizes the importance of individuality and embracing your entire self. How does your own individuality influence your creative process, and how do you hope your art inspires others to embrace their uniqueness?

I make sure to surround myself with what inspires me and influences my work while creating, and it helps ensure that my artwork stays true to who I am and what I’m trying to say. I also use social media to share who I am, and I always share more than just my work so that others feel they know me and can see my personality shine through. I push myself to share things with my audience that feels uncomfortable on purpose, this feeling of being exposed can feel scary, but if I’m 100% myself all the time, it gives others space to feel like they can do the very same. 

Color plays a significant role in your art, and you mention visualizing and building color schemes throughout your day. How do you approach color harmony and the intentional use of color to evoke specific emotions or reactions from viewers?

Learning color theory was an absolute game changer in my work. I’m self-taught, so I didn’t even know color theory was important until I took a workshop in 2016 and I learned how to mix color palettes for abstract art. I think visual memory comes into play, and I’m able to take in color palettes that work together whenever I consume media, and it tends to translate onto canvas. When I want the viewer to experience joy and playfulness, I reach for magenta, fluorescent pink, lemon yellow, teal, purple and marry them all together on the canvas. When I want the viewer to feel melancholy I use neutrals and lots of texture. 

Your work is described as a refreshing reminder of life lived with distinction. How do you channel this sense of distinction and individuality into your paintings, and how do you ensure each piece carries its own unique essence?

In each work I create, no two look the same. Each painting is a unique story told on canvas, and that story resonates with the eventual collector. Even if I paint with the same color palette, the end result is always different. Although my personality is just one, each painting comes out different because I’m experiencing a new chapter in my life while this painting is being created. 

In your artist statement, you mention yearning to create work that beckons the viewer back time and time again. How do you achieve this quality in your paintings, and what do you hope viewers take away from returning to your art for multiple viewings?

I’ve been both applauded and criticized for how busy my work is, but I think it’s a good representation of the state of my mind. I have ADHD, so when I paint my mind finally calms and I’m able to speak to my audience with paint, lines and shapes. I achieve a maze like quality in my work by allowing the eye to purposely never rest, but in each painting I make a path for the viewer to follow like a journey through a maze. My hope is that each time someone views my work they find a new detail to enjoy, a new path they find from start to finish and a new emotion every time they see my work.


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