Leslie Toms in dialog with Melissa Chandon

Leslie TomsMC.  I understand you studied with Wolf Kahn, How did that affect the way
you paint and particularly approach the canvas?

LT.    I still learn from Wolf as the wisdom he passed on during his class really hit home with me and I still hear his voice.  He was a very tough taskmaster and I loved the challenges.  Only once did he rattle my cage and bring me to tears and I think that was the break through moment.  There were several things that stand out most that have added a new maturity to how I paint.  First, I paint with more abandon than I used to.  Second, he gave me permission follow my urges to paint whatever I wanted in any color or medium or size and not worry about it being “marketable”.  I had struggled with that for a while as I came from background of graphic design where one has to convince people to buy a product.  Or that each painting a certain size was worth a certain amount.  No longer do I look at my work that way nor do I compare myself with the others so much.  I just follow my own muse for whatever it is worth! I admire the work of Bonnard and he went his own way with his work and that is what makes his work unique. And lastly, I learned to allow a painting to emerge from the canvas instead of transferring a painting from my head to the surface.  Do you dance with the alligator or do you wrestle with it and make into a handbag?

MC.  You seem to have the ability to boil the landscape down the essential elements. Can you tell me a little about your editing process?

LT.  My work is primarily representational but I am not a realist.  I admire simplicity. The purity of design in architecture, furniture, typography etc or elements in nature are more comfortable for me.  One of my favorite books is “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  In it there is a line that I relate to my work, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  My goal is to embed that into each painting.  Like one frame of a moving story that I put onto canvas.  I use the tools of color, composition, key values, stroke, line etc. to create that. Less is more.  I want so much to make it nearly iconic but not quite.  Or perhaps, to put it another way, that this is what sees out of the corner of one’s eye for just a second.  It is a place, a story, a person all distilled into one simple image.

MC.  Would you say Morandi has influenced you?

LT.  Morandi?  Hasn’t he influenced us all?  One of the series I want to approach next is a near white series.  Or a world in which the color has been bleached out.  What I learned of color from studying with Robert Baxter and Ann Toulmin-Roth who were renegade descendants of Henry Henshe and Charles Hawthorne’s school of color in Provincetown most likely was derived from Morandi. After 10 years of printmaking early in my career and being interested in Joseph Albers work . . . I began to understand from Robert and Ann that color mixing has less to do with chemistry and light and more to do with emotion and environment.  But Morandi, here I come full circle.   His lifelong pursuit of shape, tone, color in still life and landscape do echo in my work.   Are we forever controlled by the few great artists?

MC.  It feels to me that you approach the canvas as a repetitive investigation. Do you consider your work to be a continual investigation?

LT.  In order to truly see, I believe we need to be open to seeing it again with fresh eyes over and over.  So by pursuing some subjects relentlessly I master the subject enough that I no longer have to think about creating a new language for it.  That is when it becomes more plastic for me.  I’m sure to some that my work looks like I’m just making the same picture over and over to sell . . . but no, rarely is that the case.  I’m a slow painter and I have developed slowly as an artist.   I can only suppose those tiny changes from one piece to another will be obvious in retrospect.

Melissa Chandon is a painter and has a MFA from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University.  She shows her work both internationally and domestically.  Her work is in many private and public collections:

The M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, Morris Graves Museum, Napa Valley

Museum, and Queen Raina Al Abdullah of Jordan, to name a few.  Her

work has been published many times in print media including American

Art Collector and Southwest Art.