A first glimpse of the scope of work to be revealed by the Saul Leiter Foundation, recently established in the artist's New York studio following his death in 2013, at the age of 89. Bringing the many and varied treasures that he left behind to a wider public, the Foundation is already working on several museum exhibits and publications, as the full extent of his incredible archive comes to light.
The London gallery exhibition at HackelBury Fine Art comprises mostly painted works on paper, including painted photographs, notebook covers and boards torn from sketchpads and watercolour blocks. All very small in scale, the tiniest fragments are raw edged female portraits, a particularly intimate and personal glimpse into the interior world within his studio apartment. Some may be familiar with the vision of beauty and poetry he found on the busy and gritty streets of New York in the 1950’s, but his earliest project, the watercolour and gouache paintings which he worked on continuously from the 1940’s until his death, is still largely unknown - not least because he wilfully resisted several attempts to exhibit and sell them within his lifetime.
Rather than chasing fame, fortune and artistic recognition, it was enough for him to live a simple life, to ‘keep the lights on’ as he often said. To live life as an artist on his own terms, and for it’s own end – no more, no less. This spirit comes through in everything he created, in particular here the irrepressible nature of his relationship with paint, and his absolute delight in colour. He created many conventionally ‘finished’ works that can be seen in the exhibition, but his enjoyment of painting often spilled over to every surface in his everyday life – letters received and sent, the covers of books and sketchpads, even the flattened insides of grocery boxes; he used everything, and kept everything. There was a democracy in his choice and range of materials which elevated the everyday. His refusal to edit his output in any way also denied any series or piece more value than the others – his archive in that sense becoming a work of art in itself. Many of his works and studies were created incrementally over a period of decades, a few brushstrokes at a time; a lifelong installation piece that deserves to be uncovered and enjoyed at a similar pace.
The scale of the works and the exquisite detail does ask that we step in closer, and doesn’t by any means shout to be heard… just like Saul, if you had the pleasure of meeting him, with an eyebrow raised, a shrug of his shoulders and a quiet chuckle at the absurdity of modern life.
* Exhibition preview online
* Read more about the artist
* Nigel Warburton interview with Saul Leiter
Read a wonderful feature about Saul Leiter's life and his photographic career in the Jan 9/10 Weekend FT Magazine, written by Liz Jobey and in The Guardian, Jan 15 writen by Andrew Dickson in t
It's only recently that Saul Leiter (1923-2013) has received due recognition for his pioneering role in the emergence of colour photography. He moved to New York intent on becoming a painter, yet ended up working for magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, Elle and British Vogue and became known for his impressionistic colour street scenes.
As early as 1946, and thus well before representatives of the 1970s new colour photography school (such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore), Leiter was using Kodachrome colour slide film for his free artistic shots, despite it being despised by artists of the day.
"When we do not know why the photographer has taken a picture and when we do not know why we are looking at it, all of a sudden we discover something that we start seeing. I like this confusion."
The Photographers’ Gallery presents Saul Leiter: Retrospective, an exhibition examining the work of the pioneering American photographer and artist, opening January 22 and running until April 3, 2016. It features more than 100 works, including early black-and-white and colour photographs, sketchbooks and ephemera and is Leiter’s first major show in a public gallery in the UK.
http://www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk/saul-leiter for booking information.