Leslie spent her childhood playing in boats, hiking, riding horses and camping with her family in the Sierra Mountains but art was not her thing. She grew up surrounded by artistic people but she never had that gift. It was painfully obvious she was the ‘untalented one’ in her family.
Her mother was a professional bass player who played regularly with Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., John Denver, George Benson, etc. Leslie often hung out backstage during ballets, symphonies, and concerts in the Lake Tahoe and Reno. She developed an appreciation for all types of music, especially classical music at a very early age but it didn’t help her artwork like it did for her brother.
Her brother was a child-prodigy at fine art doing photo-realism at age seven while he listened to classical music … even beating adults in art competitions. Because she had no choice, she tagged along on family trips planned around her brother’s artistic talent so he could study works by Charles M. Russell, Frederic Remington, James Bama and Marshall Merritt (her great uncle).
She enjoyed the trips to places she’d never been to before, especially when they included an outdoor adventure in Yellowstone or through the Tetons, and she loved the artwork she was exposed to but it didn’t improve her own talent … or should we say lack of talent. Her stick figures didn’t even look right. When painting Easter Eggs or Christmas Ornaments with her brother and sister, her creations elicited responses like, “That’s … um … very … uh … NICE dear.”
No, instead she was drawn to the outdoors and found she was great with animals. While her brother’s “thing” was art, hers was working with animals and if she could do it in the mountains, even better. She could be found doing her homework on the back of her horse while her dog (part husky, part shepherd) tagged along at her side. Likewise the family dogs, cats and horses often gravitated to her. When missing, you could usually find her playing in the dogrun, cow field, or riding in the mountains around her Nevada home in the Ponderosa territory or cuddling the family cat or bunnies. When any animals were ill, she was the one who stayed up all night walking, massaging, or nursing them back to health.
Her first job in middle school and high school was as a ranch hand on a cuttin’ horse ranch and an Arabian horse ranch working with foals, horses, dogs and cattle. Still having no apparent talent in the arts by graduation, she instead earned her college degree in English Lit and became a writer among other jobs before having children.
So it came as a total surprise to her when at age 43, she turned to art. So sure she wasn’t good at it and never would be, she wouldn’t even have considered it except she wanted her young children to have more art experience than school was providing. So she turned on PBS with the idea that while watching Bob Ross paint mountains and “happy trees,” she would learn enough to translate the concepts to her youngsters in a way they could enjoy.
"I'm from the PBS-school of fine art," she laughs.
The moment she picked up a brush she felt overwhelmed with joy, hope and a powerful healing energy. She suddenly saw nature, animals … everything in a new way -- with the artist’s eye. Science made sense. The world opened up before her.
“Doing art is like trekking through the wilderness, the struggle is rewarded with discovery not only of pretty vistas but of awe-inspiring, profound feelings,” she explains.
She quotes the poet Wordsworth, “To me the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
Leslie still kayaks, climbs mountains, and treks into the wilderness to feed her soul with her children and her dog but now art has given her a new way of seeing the world and this has added a profound peaceful satisfaction to her life.
Her landscapes and wildlife reflect her love and passion for all things in the natural world just as her portraits reflect her deep respect for people and the incredible bond they hold with their pets.
Sometimes she wonders if she’d be a much better artist if she’d known she could do it during her college years but then after several people with BA degrees in Art asked her to teach them how, she realized it’s a blessing that she’s self-taught.
“I never learned I wasn’t supposed to do something … like paint with wadded up plastic for a certain effect or that portraits weren’t ‘real art’ … who cares as long as you love doing them. ”
It doesn’t hurt that she learns incredibly fast too. That happens because it’s like everything else she does, it’s a passion (verging on obsession). She can’t not do it. For Leslie, it’s not so much about expressing emotions to others through art (although that’s always inherent), for Leslie it’s all about the process … the journey while she’s in the middle of living it and the fact that she’s left with a work of art to bring others along on her journey to see as she sees, to feel as she feels, well, that’s just icing on the cake.
“If you get famous enough, everyone wants to follow what you’ve done, but it’s like the wilderness … it’s no fun to follow someone else up the mountain (eating their dust, picking up their trash as you go), I want to be the first to see that view or at least feel as if I am. So too with painting, I want to explore and discover … and interact with the animals along the way whether wild or domestic.”
Like her treks into the wilderness, doing art leads her down new paths and new discoveries lie around every corner. When climbing or kayaking she must reach deep within seeking unique survival skills to face each physical challenge and so it is with art. She says she must do the same soul searching to address each visual problem whether working on a pet portrait or a landscape.
As you might expect, Leslie lives in the Sierra Mountains at the end of an old, dirt, 4-wheel-drive, mining road on 5 acres adjacent to historical Native American sacred land with her husband, children, chickens, dog, cat, bunny, fish and wildlife (bobcats, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, turkeys, possums, raccoons, rattlesnakes, skunks, hummingbirds, etc.) that visit her mountain home studio.
Among other things that feed her art, she is the on-call tour guide at Black Chasm Caverns (a National Natural Landmark), she’s lead guide of The Labyrinth - a 4-hour adventure tour of rock climbing, rappelling (30-ft cliff), bouldering and crawling through marble tunnels, … and she gave birth to her second child in her car in the lane of traffic at a red light … but that is another story for another time.
Leslie is a member of the Amador Artists Association, the Amador County Arts Council and Arts in Education Committee.
Contact Leslie at (775) 303-5844 or Leslie@LeslieVasquez.net.
Artwork and images appearing on this website are the copyright © property of Leslie Vasquez and are protected under the International Copyright Laws.
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