As a self-taught Bahamian artist, Leanne Russell remembers a connection to art from an early age. She recalled a humourous story of being attached to her pacifier as a toddler. One day her mother gave her crayons, and she coloured on her pacifier. From then on she relinquished the pacifier, and became quite content to gaze upon its transformation to that of a work of art atop a shelf.
After graduating from high school, Leanne went on to study commerce at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She returned to her beloved Abaco to pursue a career and to reunite with her first love: painting.
Securing employment at the Green Turtle Club, she completed a collection of murals for her employers. She has also worked on a string of commissions for corporate and private collections in the United States and Australia, and her work has graced the shores and inspired the people of St. Lucia and Dominica.
While Leanne favours watercolor and acrylic on canvas or recycled antique clap-board shutters, she is open to allowing her artistic style to become a more progressive one. Lately, she’s been experimenting with stain glass.
But for now, her vibrant and expressive masterpieces of The Bahamas’ culture and its people have captured the interest of many. In 2011, Leanne participated in the Public Treasury Art Program after being approached by Keisha Oliver, exhibition coordinator. The Bahama Mama inaugural exhibition was her first exhibition outside of Abaco.
Later this year, Leanne and Scharad Lightbourne, a Bahamian photographer, will team up in June for a collaborative show. The two plan to pay tribute to our country’s forefathers through their combined mediums. There is also a solo show planned for July where Leanne will showcase her work by offering what she calls a “cohesive collection.”
“You have to prove if you are relevant,” Leanne reasoned. “The greatest payoff for me is if someone is inspired – you have to be inspired and then inspire.
“I am inspired by the community feeding off of each other’s energy. It fosters an appreciation and helps you to become more creative and think outside of the box.”
Conversely, the last two years have created a whirlwind of activity for Leanne as she displayed her work through events hosted by D’Aguilar Art Foundation, Burns House, the Central Bank of the Bahamas; the National Art Gallery for the Amos Ferguson Tribute Show; and Baha Mar Development.
Leanne has been featured in Air Currents magazine, she was named a Cacique Award finalist in the Fine Arts Category, and she was a nominee for the People’s Choice Award for Fash|Art 2012. Also in 2012, Leanne was chosen as one of the four nominees for Stylezine Magazine People’s Choice Awards Visual Artist of the Year.
Renowned Bahamian artist Alton Lowe and a mentor to Leanne has described her as “an inspiration for other young Bahamian artists.”
Truly she is an inspiration as a mother of two, with a full-time job and an art career to go along with it. Nevertheless, Leanne recognized that the key to it all is balance.
Leanne was also instrumental in the success of Furniture Plus’ Plus Arts & Culture (PAC) Summer Showcase 2011. As Acting Sales & Store Operations for the Abaco Furniture Plus store, Leanne and other staff members help to organize the event, which incorporated the work of 26 artists like Marjolein Scott and Karen McIntosh of Abaco Ceramics. Currently, the store is featuring the work of a new artist every month this year, and Green Turtle Cay Artist Rome Hyer’s stain glass lamps are now on display.
“It’s important to network,” Leanne disclosed. “Nassau artists have the advantage of having marketable art and the national art galleries.”
However, Leanne is also a big advocate for decentralization of the arts, and would like to see more happening for the talented people of Abaco. Last week, she was delighted to attend the opening of the Hummingbird Gallery in Hope Town.