Leslie Rowland’s love of science and the responsibility she feels to the natural world led her to a Master’s degree in environmental policy and management. But her lifelong zeal for creating things with her hands inexorably pulled her to art.
“My intellectual passion is science, but my heart lives in art,” she says. “Science to me is what makes the whole world pivot; art is how I communicate it.”
Those epiphanies were several years in the discovery. After undergraduate school and time pursuing adventure travel, she landed in Nevada, where she found a creative outlet transforming furniture into pieces of art using quotes and imagery. “I themed my pieces in an effort to shift paradigms,” she says. “Most of my work has always had a pretty distinctive underlying story.”
When it became clear the time she invested in each piece was not proportionate to what people were willing to invest to own it, she did a shift of her own. “I felt that wall art would be a more serious platform for what I was trying to do.”
Her first pieces were color-focused visceral abstracts, but soon she made another course correction. “I was writing two-paragraph titles,” she recalls with a laugh. “I realized the titles were stories, so I picked up a sketchbook and started to draw.”
She traded canvas for wood panels, waded into the new medium with a series called “Story Paintings,” then took a deep plunge to create a proprietary painting technique. “I make a very detailed sketch in my sketchbook, then transfer the rough draft to the panel and sketch it with graphite pencil,” she explains. From there, she does a detailed painting on the panel, then adds layers of acrylic paint. Finally, the removal process begins with sanding, then soaking cotton rags in water for a wet wash that compresses and polishes the paint, resulting in a near porcelain finish.
“As I’ve gotten better in the technique, there are fewer mistakes and I have more control, but in every painting, there are surprises.”
While the advanced degree she earned has never been put to use in a conventional job, she says when she realized she could marry art and science, “It was like an entire universe opened to me, and I can’t keep up with the inspiration that brings me.”
Her three primary series are all science based: “Of Living Nature” depicts birds, butterflies, flowers, and bees; the canvases of “Binary Code Message Series” start with a message she believes people need to hear — for example “Love Lives Here,” “Make the World Better,” and “You Are Beautiful” — which she puts into binary code on a panel and then paints; and the “Music Sound Wave Series” graphs and paints a soundwave computer readout of verse of songs that move her.
Rowland and her husband Wade Oppliger moved to Asheville seven years ago, looking for a nature-imbued, environmentally conscious cultural home well suited to their work and mission. “I feel an overwhelming responsibility to protect wild things and wild places. I want people to look below the surface and see the battle cry in my art.”
Leslie Rowland, Asheville. The artist’s gallery is L. Rowland Fine Contemporary Art, Riverview Station, Suite 101, 191 Lyman St. in the River Arts District. For more information, see lrowlandart.com or on Facebook: Leslie Rowland Art.