Visual Arts

Couple go to new depths to explore human form in their paintings

Two Swimmers #1 is part of painter Anne Leone's Cenote Series.
Two Swimmers #1 is part of painter Anne Leone's Cenote Series.

VERSAILLES — From the political and personal upheaval experienced in a post-9/11 world to the mysterious quiet of the underwater caverns in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, the latest exhibit at Heike Pickett Gallery explores the emotional and visual depths of two celebrated artists at the height of their careers.

New Drawings by Anne Leone and Recent Works by her husband, Daniel Ludwig, is a joint exhibit at Heike Pickett Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Versailles until Dec. 20.

The artists are retired art professors who now are full-time painters in Brooklyn, N.Y. They share a creative discipline, two children and are renowned for their classical depictions of the human figure, but each artist's work is visually and thematically distinct.

Leone continues her two decades-long depiction of underwater scenes, exploring the human figure in the weightless fluidity of water. Entwined torsos, kicking legs, the subdued filter and distortion of light created by the water are hallmarks of her acrylic paintings.

While Leone has been "in the water," as gallery owner Heike Pickett calls it, for 20 years, Leone considers recent works inspired by the cenotes, or sinkholes, of the Yucatan Peninsula to be her most ambitious.

"These freshwater pools are the exposed entry points to vast underwater cave systems," Leone writes in her artist statement. "They are a dramatic and portentous environment for meditations on the beauty and fragility of the human body and spirit."

The exhibit features several of Leone's signature acrylic paintings but also includes charcoal drawings, a new artistic endeavor for her. Without the aid of color, Leone's charcoal drawings of underwater figures rely on her understanding of the intermingling qualities of water and light.

"The light moves around on the page, which is a lot like swimming in a pool, bouncing around from side to side, down to the bottom and up for air," she writes.

Leone continues to deepen her work with underwater figures and explore a new medium, but Ludwig's work underwent significant upheaval in the past decade.

The aftermath of 9/11 and two foreign wars challenged Ludwig's notion that he "could live safely, rationally, untouched by the chaos around me," he writes in his artist statement.

And then, when his mother and sister died within a year, Ludwig writes, his "optimism shattered like a layer of protective glass."

"Grief and anger began to undermine the stability of my old manner of painting," he writes. "I eventually found a new direction by picking up the broken pieces of my past work, taking a leg here, a torso there, a stormy sky from early landscapes."

Ludwig combined these elements with images from newspapers and the Internet in a "mash-up" that eventually found a compositional framework evocative of classical painting. While he cites Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa, Jacques-Louis David's The Sabine Women and even Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel as the kind of classical works that helped him to reorder the disparate elements of his past work, he brings a fresh sense of dramatic color to his composition.

"Old fictions have lost their power to order the world," Ludwig writes of his new works, which he calls a "cannibalization, a recapitulation and a re-examination of my artistic life."

Pickett describes Ludwig's recent evolution as a "total departure" and a "breakthrough." She ought to know: Ludwig and Leone were among the first artists she exhibited and represented when her commercial gallery opened almost 30 years.

Since their first shows with Pickett in the 1980s, the pair have regularly exhibited in noted galleries in New York and London while continuing to mount shows in Kentucky.