Leslie Plato Smith


Having spent much of her career as Associate Vice-Chancellor of Governmental Relations for City College of San Francisco, her work is never far from incorporating the political into the art world; bringing the obligation of being human into the conversation. Educated at UC Santa Barbara, Tulane, and UC Berkeley, she received a national award for effort, initiative, and innovation in bringing together 60 different art departments to create 125 life size statues to visually show how budget cuts are negatively impacting our students and to fight for public education. This was followed by a series of 90 life size soft sculptures demonstrating how community colleges change lives for the better.
Recent accomplishments include the Juror’s Award at Gearbox Gallery’s Wild/Mind exhibition, a solo show of her Portrayals: Faces from the Classroom series at the June Steingart Gallery, Laney College, and participation in Politically Charged at BlueLine Arts and Visions of Clay at San Joaquin Delta College. Other honors include an Award of Excellence from the National Juried Show at ACCI Gallery and inclusion in Ceramics Monthly’s feature of Outstanding Ceramics Students.
Her mother taught her to never be afraid of drawing off the edge of the paper or of making mistakes and remains an inspiration.
Broad strokes, bold shapes, rich texture, create the form, but more importantly expose the figure’s character. Gesture, posturing, and larger-than-life scale help provide insight on inner emotions and outer truths with the goal of bringing both power and vulnerability to the work. As viewers bring their experiences and emotions to their reactions to my painting, I seek to illicit an intuitive response from the viewer before they turn to a refined, analytical assessment.
Interested in the human condition, emotion is the intersection between wild like an animal and the analytical, self-assessing, moral being humans strive to be. In order to delve into the very nature of man’s code of conduct, personal conflict, and ethical dilemma, I use portraiture to explore relationships, to bring the political into the art world, and the obligation of being human into the conversation.
Maybe I shouldn’t have murdered all those people, but I just wanted the Falcon. Killing could have been a mistake.
Several small sketches of my subject create the foundation for my painting, seeking essence rather than detail. Never drawing on the canvas, the excitement builds as I stick a large palette knife into a pound of oil paint and slap it onto the canvas—a new beginning; a new challenge; a new opportunity to portray my version of the truth.
Series of installations using ceramic assemblages and 2D drawings explore our world’s ever-evolving environment: biological, social, political, economic. — in which we and all life exists. Quickly folding the clay brings a fullness to the forms; a sense of life, spontaneity, and vulnerability to the sculpture; ripping and tearing the clay to mimic the forces life encounters daily. Vibrant 2D drawings expand the boundaries of the clay-based sculptures to fully realize the concept.
Envision crossing the Arctic tundra and stumbling upon a new eco-resort, a land transformed by the heat of global warming, changing from an icy white to bursting with splashes of color and exotic new life. Evoking both fear and wonder, what will our future be in this rapidly changing world? Should we embrace it or run?
I became interested in anthropology to explore the universals across human societies, including imagery, icons, and symbols. Every culture creates their own totems to represent their values—aesthetic, spiritual, wealth, familial. My art tries to express the universal rather than culture specific, bringing contemporary aesthetics to long valued structures and forms that all cultures can recognize and reflect on.

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