Profile: Russell Leng

Out of Shape

Artist, Russell Leng, uses a lexicon of shapes to simplify oppositions of nature and our contemporary landscape.

Leng hails from Vancouver but is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts from the Edinburgh College of Art. His work has been shown at exhibitions throughout North America, as well as in many online and print publications. He’s recently evolved from painting to video and installation in an effort to explore the transitions that can occur between mediums while maintaining the same subject.

Natalie Kaine: What was it like getting your MFA in Edinburgh? What made you pursue your masters there?

Russell Leng: It was always important to me to pursue an MFA, and since context is so valuable to a studio practice, I thought it would be beneficial to study in the UK. There have been lots of opportunities outside the program as well such as trips to the Venice Biennale and Berlin Biennale, and exhibitions with various galleries in the city. I really enjoy the city itself, and its relatively small size makes it possible to get to know it well.

NK: Where does the geometric/crystal theme in your art come from?

RL: My attraction to geometric shapes started when I was young. I was never into drawing people or animals as a kid —it was always shapes. Over the years geometric shapes have developed into a sort of vocabulary I use to explore different issues I am interested in, such as those surrounding contemporary landscape.

I like to simplify forms into basic elements. To be honest, crystals themselves have never been important to me, as I don’t see the paintings as a representation of anything specific. Sometimes they end up looking like that, but I never have that as a goal before I start. They are just shapes piled onto other shapes, interacting with each other to create something —sometimes floating, sometimes not.

NK: What’s your creative process?

RL: It depends on what it is. Paintings are fairly straightforward — just putting paint on a canvas or board. Recently I have been expanding my work to include video, installation, drawing and graphic design. I’m interested in how one work of art can be translated into new mediums. This is usually done by simplifying things into basic forms, then taking those elements to a different medium.

How can a performance turn into a painting? How can that painting turn into a video? How can the video turn into 500 drawings?

NK: What are you working on now? Any upcoming projects?

RL: I am currently working on a piece for “The Iceberg Exchange” — a group show at The Old Ambulance Depot in Edinburgh which opened January 25. After that I will be making work for a group show at the Flemming Collection in London during Frieze Art Fair, and also focusing on my degree show which opens May 30.

NK: How do you see yourself in the Vancouver art scene versus internationally?

RL: I don’t see myself very established in any art scene currently, which I’m fine with. I have had a few shows in Vancouver, but overall it seems like San Francisco has been the kindest to me if we are talking about certain locations. Though personal relationships are key, most of my opportunities have risen from the internet, which I think shows a diminished importance in being based in a well-known art city.

NK: How do you spend your time when you’re not painting?

RL: Eating scrambled eggs, brushing my teeth, making up weird songs with my wife, lots of biking around, planning imaginary (or on the odd occasion real) trips, Skyping with my two-year-old nephew.