living the dream
What is a woman from the suburbs of New Jersey doing in a remote Hispanic mountain village? Living the dream, of course!
Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Leigh Gusterson has always painted and drawn. And she longed for places wild and natural. “I moved from New Jersey to Taos, New Mexico in 1990. I was looking for more freedom to express myself, to just be myself — in my art, and my lifestyle.” For 20 years Gusterson lived in the town of Taos, raising her two daughters, and developing her own joyous style of landscape painting using bright, bold oil colors. In 2010, the girls were grown and had gone out on their own, so Leigh was free to move up to Llano into an old adobe she had renovated, to live the rural life she had always wanted.
“I paint outdoors on location,” says Leigh. “That’s where the magic and the joy is for me. I get to be outside in this stunningly beautiful place, to just be present, looking around, feeling, taking it all in. I love the simple way of life here. The old timers are still ranching, irrigating their fields from the acequias, growing food, some even still cook their tortillas on wood stoves. These people have a strong connection with the land, and work on it daily. And they work with what they have. They keep everything (junk) and use what they have to fix things instead of buying new. They improvise and are very creative. That’s what creativity means to me – using what you have to make something amazing that works. I’m inspired by that.”
The love of this place shows up in Leigh’s work. Her paintings are depictions of the landscape, peppered with crumbling adobes, old trucks, horses and sheep, but the joy and love is expressed in her use of vibrant colors, her loose, energetic brushstrokes, and the swaying lines and forms which lend a sense of movement to her compositions.
“I start each painting outdoors with an acknowledgement for the grace that allows me to be here doing this,” she says, “and then comes the feeling of gratitude. From there I begin painting, quickly, confidently, trying to capture as much of the scene and the mood in as few brushstrokes as possible. I work for about an hour, until I have all the information I need. Then the painting comes home with me, without any judgement or criticism from me about what it looks like. That’s super important, because I ALWAYS have some expectation about what I wanted it to look like, and it hardly EVER happens that way. So I just take it home and live with the painting for a couple of weeks, until I realize how wonderful it really is. Then I refine it to a finished point with as few brushstrokes as possible, so as not to cover up the original energy that was put down outdoors.”