David Leffel was born in New York City and graduated from Parson’s School of Design while also attending Fordham University. Between 1959-1960 with a Merit Scholarship, he studied painting at the Art Students League of New York. Several years later, Leffel returned to the League as an instructor and in the next 25 years would leave an important legacy of influence with the thousands of students he taught.
David Leffel’s works have been exhibited in major museums and private collections, and he has received three gold medals at the National Academy of Western Art, as well as a gold medal from the Hudson Valley Art Association and Allied Artists of America. Leffel has also been featured in a number of publications including American Artist Magazine, Artists of the Rockies and the Golden West, Southwest Art, American Artists of Renown, and American Society of Portrait Artists. An instructional painting book on Leffel’s teachings was written by Linda Cateura, Oil Painting Secrets from a Master (Watson Guptill, 1984). It continues to instruct new generations of painters.
Internationally recognized as a “20th Century Old Master,” David Leffel illuminates his paintings with a light that seems to fall from deepest memory. Yet while the figures of 17th Century Dutch Masters—most notably Rembrandt—cast powerful shadows on Leffel’s work, it is not only the shades of history, but the artist’s immediacy, that awaken us to brilliance. Perhaps in this way more than any other, David Leffel proves himself a true master of chiaroscuro—not only with shadow and light, but with past and present. In An Artist Teaches: Reflections on the Art of Painting, we discover the revolutionary approach that Leffel brings to the classical tradition of painting.
In a departure from the conventional emphasis on technique, Leffel stresses the “visual concept” that must first exist in the painter’s mind. It is upon this singular concept, Leffel argues, that the structure and framework of the painting depend, and without which the elements of technique cannot achieve their most profound qualities. Building upon the cornerstone of this abstract visual concept, David Leffel explores the methods that allow the painter to give expression to that essential idea. From a discussion of composition, brushstroke, value, edges and color, the artist leads us through the “sculpting” of three-dimensional life upon a flat canvas. Leffel also suggests how the painter may approach the unique challenges of portraiture, landscape, still life and backgrounds. Yet beyond this welcome and pragmatic advice, Leffel reminds us that only by remaining faithful to our visual concept may our efforts truly succeed.
Throughout a career spanning four decades, Leffel has indeed remained faithful to his own visual concepts. It is that fidelity, in fact, which condemns complacency. Though one might suppose that a mastery of technique would make easy work of painting, Leffel assures us that with each canvas he confronts fresh challenges to the realization of his vision. And in those challenges, he tells us, lies the real art of painting—and its joy. Whether we strive to attain greater fulfillment as students of art, or merely seek a deeper understanding of the creative force and its process, An Artist Teaches inspires us to evolve. Abounding with color plates of David Leffel’s recent work—most of which are reproduced here for the first time—this volume also offers the opportunity to enjoy the unparalleled accomplishments of a 20th century master.
Those who have studied David Leffel’s art and teachings, as well as those who are newly discovering them, cannot fail to rejoice in the light which emanates from his brush. Leffel’s reflections, we find, are no less illuminating.