The Trickster has always lurked in Christopher Leitch’s artwork, and s/he really gallivants around in Leitch’s current installation “chance diaries: dream things.”
As in all his oeuvre, Leitch establishes a set format, and then — this is where the Trickster steps in — he lets things develop as they will. No matter the outcome. (Some will undoubtedly recall Leitch’s ethereal, but utilitarian textiles, randomly colored and patterned by bacteria cultivated by the artist in his studio). Leitch’s Buddhist practice and the work of artists such as John Cage, who famously used the I Ching to determine the outcome of his various works, have inspired many of his diverse creations.
Leitch is known for the dream diaries he has made for decades, in which he both writes and illustrates the good, bad and strange encounters he experiences in a sleep state. Typically, he has shown these works on paper in a small format, and they recall the pristine work of medieval manuscript illuminators. There are fine examples of such paintings here, but Leitch has also upped the ante considerably in this exhibit.
No longer just words and drawings, his images are now full-blown, 3-D creations, fashioned in every considerable medium. A felted, life-size monster, both cute and creepy, lies in the same room with pink, fuzzy alphabet letters fashioned like a Christmas tree, along with a nude male torso in painted ceramic. What looks like a small missile, crafted from handmade paper, is installed next to a pair of green gloves with flowers.
High on the wall is a framed work with the word “ho,” and across the room there are two beautiful scarves entangled with one another; one is a found, printed silk piece and the other is a Leitch scarf in organic silk covered with letters. Three stacked chairs dominate the center of the main gallery. The date of the actual dream is incorporated in the title of each artwork, and each piece is exactly as the artist originally envisioned it.
“As a child,” Leitch said in a recent interview, “I remembered my dreams. They were like mental landscapes, and I wanted a deeper relationship with them. I make the dream diaries because I want to be disciplined, objective, and to help me understand the experience. My dreams are as vivid and richly engaging as anything in my waking life, and I won’t clamp them down. I am no longer afraid of ephemeral happenings.
“But until this exhibit, I had never made my dreams 3-D, and that scared me. I had to learn some new skills and practice my art in a new dimension.”
Leitch took a serious chance blowing up the scale of some of his dream diary pages. The interior gallery space has seven of the artist’s paper works that are 68 x 42 inches, roughly 25 times their normal size. At the time of installation, the centers of all the pages were blank. Each Friday Leitch has shown up to paint the interiors, laying bare his process to visitors. He has set up all his work materials on a table in the middle of the room. One might not expect the small diary pages, which possess real intimacy and charm, to translate well when they become room-sized, but the large works are mesmerizing, and demonstrate Leitch’s prowess as a painter.
Also unexpected is Leitch’s 2017 video, “09/21/14: the parts of the world that need making.” Essentially a power-point presentation, it consists of geometric-shaped elements that slowly fade and change color to hypnotic effect.
The Trickster, according to history of religions expert Mac Linscott Ricketts, “is the symbol of the self-transcending mind of humankind and of the human quest for knowledge and the power that knowledge brings. . .The Trickster looks to no power outside himself, but sets out to subdue the world by his wits and his wit.”
Certainly Leitch’s ability to combine drop-dead seriousness with unabashed zaniness is unmatched. But the honesty, fearlessness and forthright nature of his art has also evolved from his Buddhist practices.
Most Buddhist philosophies aim for “the tenderness of the awakened heart,” Leitch says. “It helps us understand that we’re all vulnerable and breakable.”
If you want to know what it will be like when you die, according to one well-known Buddhist saying, look at where your mind is right now. An essential part of Leitch’s daily practice is exactly that, as evidenced in this outstanding overview of his art.
Christopher Leitch: “chance diaries: dream things” continues at KCAI Crossroads Gallery: Center for Contemporary Practice, 1819 Grand Blvd., through March 2. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and by appointment on Saturdays. For more information, 816.914.5394 or www.kcai.edu/crossroads-gallery