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Leah Nanako Winkler

Gwenn Seemel
Sailor cheerleader (Leah fitting in) and Double, not half (Leah standing out)
acrylic on bird’s eye piqué
each painting 18 inches in diameter

Fitting in $1800 | Standing out $1800
(Email me for details.)

Leah Nanako Winkler made a face at my brother. He was directing a reading of one of her plays, and he’d said something she didn’t agree with. The subtle exchange held magical implications for me, a lonely painter who didn’t understand how special the artistic camaraderie of theater could be. I pledged to be better at making my art a collaboration, starting with Leah and her portrait for Empathetic Magic.

Over the next few months, I immersed myself in Leah’s plays as well as in her articles for a website dedicated to helping Japanese-Americans navigate the culture of the United States. When we met again in New York, we’d already discussed what the paintings of her might look like, and I even had potential titles gleaned from her writing.

To create portraits, I generally work from photos I take during the course of a single interview, but, for this series, I preferred multiple meetings. There was a lot of visual and vital information to collect if I was going to paint how people hide and reveal themselves. With Leah, though, that gathering process happened through her art. I knew basically what I needed to get out of the photo-session as soon as I walked through her door.

For more about the making of Sailor cheerleader, check out this video.