Cate M. Leach
My 15 years as a dancer with the New York City Ballet under the direction of George Balanchine, influenced me later when I started my painting career. I was part of the highly charged atmosphere of dancers, choreographers, costume designers and musicians all working in concert, (usually), toward the common goal of creating art.
During those years Balanchine asked one morning: “Can anyone draw?” He was teaching his dancers how to present the hand, a complex component of the Balanchine aesthetic. He further encouraged us to look at sculpture and the works of the great masters. On our frequent European tours, we explored the museums and absorbed the painters of the past.
In this way, he helped to train my eye, and I could in turn see the influence these works had on his choreography. For me, this was the beginning of my journey in the visual arts. The order and beauty of dance came with a constant struggle to master technique and achieve fluidity and grace of movement. It is the same now in my paintings; I work hard to arrive at a place where there is balance and energy.
After my dancing career ended, the memory of the grand stage was still on my mind with set and costume designs by Noguchi for “Orpheus” and Chagall’s visionary designs for “Firebird.” I have recreated a new special arena in the world of painting. There on the empty stage space of the white canvas, rhythms, patterns, shapes, appear and disappear. Moods, seasons, times of day, earth’s cycles all collide in homage to my years of moving across the horizon of the stage.
In the history of music, color has often been aligned with sound. This relationship between music, color and mood is a basic theme for me. It was music that got me on my feet with The New York City Ballet. Years later, music moved me to explore a different medium. Many of my paintings express my visual interpretation of the emotion of music and my memory of being within the music when I was dancing. Sound is transformed into fields of saturated color and expressive markings suggesting the continuum of a musical phrase. A rhythm is created, a mood expressed.
Early in 2001, I worked on a series of four paintings entitled “Anthology Paintings” centering on color moods. I gave all of them a large square format and each a different color: Red, Green, Mahogany and Blue. Furthermore, each square format is divided in a different way with added collage elements. Each color allies itself with an emotional state of mind- Red is a powerful upward thrust, almost an eruption. Green is still bisected but the form is inversed. The ground is strewn with broken buildings and an atmosphere of dust. In Mahogany there is a return to order and a deep meditative mood while Blue suggests peace over time.
After September 11th, I came to realize that these color paintings were a premonition of things to come. My next series of paintings were about my desire to restore wholeness and return to a more innocent time. In the “Ephemeral Constructs” series and “Stoptime,” I begin to rebuild.
When I work on a series of paintings, I decide in advance the size of the works, and then the theme, color and mood of the pieces. After doing some sketches, I work on all the parts at once. At times, the color begins on a high key, and then through a process of multiple glazing becomes subdued but with more depth. My glazing technique reminds me of a scrim, or semi transparent fabric which can be lit to seem opaque or to reveal various degrees of transparency during a dance performance. I am drawn to the “Tonalists” in painting because of their emphasis on atmosphere and poetic effects.
Balance and equilibrium, but without complete symmetry, also play an important role in my painting. Classical ballet requires balance but Balanchine would often try to get us to dance off balance.
Paintings like “Courante” and “Bouree” (a dance step that gives the effect of floating) relate to themes of energy, music and dance. Whereas “Entwine’ and “Curved Invention” allude to conversation and liveliness without discord. My love of nature is reflected in “River,” “Dark Rain,” “Portal” and “Briar.”
I am attuned to nature, to its depths, colors and moods. By means of multiple layers of glazing, color and mood analogies, geometry, and gestural lines, I attempt to find parallels to my reveries and experience of being in nature. The shapes, lines and patterns come from my sense of kinetic energy. One stroke suggests another. I merely paint what the last stroke evokes. These marks have sometimes been interpreted as dancers or figures in motion. I see them as pure energy. Dance was once my sanctuary, and now the visual arts have become my refuge in a new world of discovery of rhythm, movement and change. Painting gives me an enclosure to express my imagination, dreams and memory.
"Briar," acrylic on canvas, 3 panels, 60 x 20" each
"Fade Away," archival print, 20" x 10"
"Somewhere in Blue," archival print, 16" x 16"
"On the Verge," acrylic on canvas, 30" x 50"