The Art Space of Leah Cupino

Words by Brian D’Ambrosio:

Leah Cupino’s art world is simultaneously a convenient studio, a hands-on classroom, and a workspace of ideas. She also views it as a place of commentary and exchange.

“It’s important for me at The Art Space to have this two-way conversation with the public,” said Cupino. “People like to watch art as it is happening. People’s expressions will change and their interactions at the windows will change when I’m actually painting. There is the value of that interaction. Knowing the artist and who the art is coming from, I think that that always supports the art.”

Emphasizing the interconnectedness of scenery and humanity and the compassion which binds them, hers is the art of the contemplative, of meditative serenity. With a painter’s eye and an arborist’s wits, she focuses on the trussing systems and relationships of nature. Without trees, she explained, she would never experience true oneness.

“I’m really interested in the communication of trees through their root systems, the health of trees, and how they grow. I see them as an allegory, as people or channels, from earth to sky. Trees are a rich, meditative item. It’s interesting that trees grip the earth, but they also see everything around them change. They still have to bend or sway with the wind, and they have to change with weather patterns. They are reaching high all of the time, although they have gravity. The way I relate to trees and the sky – love, the life, and living – and all of the allegories that come in there dictate a lot.”

In Cupino’s art, nature is indeed an ancient and recurring truth, a place of technicality, saturation, and depth, but even more strikingly, it’s a location of multihued influence.

“To me the colors that I use are very personal. The colors are the celebration, the vibrancy.”

The improbability of space and time are other curiosities of Cupino’s work. Life moves at light speed, but at least for a transitory flash, her vertical easel, flat palette and mélange of shades have power over the world.

“We pass away and the land is here long after us. All of the dirt and earth which we’ve claimed as ours, the earth claims back. There are a lot of squares and shapes in my work as part of that claiming – the land claims in my mind, the enjoyment of that spot.”

A one-time resident of many places, even at one point Bermuda, Cupino received her BFA in Fine Arts and Commercial Design from Walla Walla University in 2003, and studied in immersive graduate studio sessions at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Virginia Commonwealth University. Home has never really been tied to a sense of physical place, she explained. In fact, she never lived for five years in one place until moving to Helena as an adult – that was about seven years ago. Helena generated resilience in her, a sense that she knew she could stand up evenly, stretch into a new shape and start again.

“We came to Helena almost out of the blue,” said Cupino, who is an adjunct art professor at Carroll College.  “We’ve lived in a lot of different places and we got to choose this place. It had the things we needed for the kids and it had an outlet for my art, with places like the Holter Museum, or the Archie Bray, that let me know I would still be nourished as an artist. Sometimes you have to dig just a little bit to find what it is you want. But if you can’t find what you want, you just make it happen.”

Helena has served as a particularly good outlet for Cupino’s talents, somehow furthering her artistic shift from abstract to absolute.

“Different places do have different qualities of light. Up high in this altitude gives you a different clarity and air and the ability to see really far, to compare mountain size to cloud size. Every time we have the chance to go somewhere else, it just doesn’t stack up to here.”

Though she dabbles in watercolors, Cupino mostly utilizes acrylics and pastels in her artwork. She is drawn to plein air painting (which she also teaches at The Art Space), finding magic in the way the trees bend their boughs over her, how the shadows of leaves tremble in the wind. From a serene mental space, she enjoys watching the trees as they are moving and gesturing. The trees, she discovers, are able to manipulate their leaves and the shadows of their leaves to make shapes so they could communicate with her.

“Part of the romance of painting outside is that you’ve shrugged off everything else that you have to do to get there. It’s a sacred time, and I wouldn’t trade it for much else.”

Art is the inescapable impulse to keep going, to keep up the pace, and not to be able to stop. For Cupino, art not only provides her with the opportunity to continually transcend the present but also the chance to nudge others into rendezvousing with their own painting and drawing inclinations.

“Everyone has it (artistic skill), but we all get stuck with a preconceived idea of just where validation sits. It’s incredible to see the idea of what people think that they are going to paint, and then see what actually comes out of them. The blank canvas can be scary to some people. But the blank canvas is exciting to me, and I keep getting inspired to make new things, because so much potential lies in the unknown. “

The Art Space is located at 17 West Placer Ave, Helena. Website: Phone: (406) 404-6359