Above: Leisa Rich in front of her “Paint By No Numbers”; all photos by Isadora Pennington
It’s a sunny afternoon on the west side of Atlanta, and artist Leisa Rich is hard at work in her studio. Rich has been an artist for the past 42 years, focusing recently on interactive and textile-based work.
She considers herself to be, by and large, an experimental artist. “Heavy on the mental,” she added, with a laugh. “I make a few functional things, but primarily they are experimental and non-functional.”
Her studio at the Goat Farm Arts Center is filled with her colorful and otherworldly creations. They hang from the rafters, protrude out from the wall, and beg to be manipulated and felt by an audience. That desire to interact with and experience her pieces is exactly the goal Rich had in mind. “Let’s put it this way — do touch the art,” she said.
On the table, spread out in the middle of the space, sits a series of multi-layered and multimedia squares she wants people to manipulate into different designs and shapes. They have since been installed at Signature Gallery.
Near the front window sits a bright and fuzzy table, plastic flowers seemingly blooming from the surface. This piece, known as “Listenupland”, is intended to interact with cellphones that are inserted into the 3D-printed flowers. Viewers play sounds from a series of recordings and turn the flowers to face one another, creating a sort of communal symphony.
“I’m intrigued by how I can make the viewer more involved in the art experience with me,” she said. Her path to this current body of work has followed a winding path. When she was a child, she was legally deaf from age 2 to age 4. She calls her table of flowers “a remnant of that time. “I lived in a silent, solitary world,” she said. After years of speech, Rich was able to successfully regain partial hearing.
Rich spent a lot of time playing in the wilderness near her home in Ontario, Canada and that love for nature has continued on as a constant throughout her work.
One element of her speech therapy that has had a considerable impact on her artwork is the series of tongue twisters that she practiced as a child. Those same phrases ended up being the foundation for her book, “Animal Alphabet Traveling Twisters.”
In the book, she created colorful dioramas that include fabric, illustrations, stitching, paints, dyes and found objects, which were then photographed and paired with the tongue twisters on each spread. The result is a vibrant and playful book that serves multiple purposes. Not only is it entertaining, it also encourages healthy speech therapy practices, making it a useful tool for parents or educators of children with speech difficulties.
Formally trained as a textile artist, Rich has spent more than 40 years teaching in universities, schools and art centers. After many years of working in small spaces, she found herself yearning for a larger studio space that could be all her own. The Goat Farm’s artist spaces perfectly fit the bill. “It was one of the best moments of my career,” she said.
Visitors to the Goat Farm are invited to check out Rich’s sunny workshop during the art center’s open studio sessions — the next one is scheduled for December — or to simply stop by if the sign on her door says she’s open. She’s typically there Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
A selection of her works is on display at the Swan Coach House for the “Small Things” show. Rich’s work also is set to be included in a juried alumni exhibition at the University of Michigan from July 18 to Aug. 26, and she’s starting a collaboration with another deaf artist for an exhibition.
Interested parties are welcome to go to her website at monaleisa.com and contact her to set up a studio visit or sign up for her classes.