“World Traveler, Robert Leedy: The Fine Art of Finding The Light” by Mary Joye, Today & Tonight Magazine

"World Traveler, Robert Leedy: The Fine Art of Finding The Light"


coverToday & Tonight Magazine

World Traveler, Robert Leedy

The Fine Art of Finding the Light 


Vignettes in Paint

Bok Tower Gardens March 28-May 28


by Mary Joye


Bok  Tower  Gardens was built by author, publisher and philanthropist, Edward Bok. He was a man who traveled the world, but found beauty and serenity here in Polk County. It was fitting that Robert Leedy, a native of the county and also a world traveler, was chosen to exhibit his watercolors at the gallery on the site known for its history, cultural impact and architectural legacy.

You could say, literally, that Robert’s creativity was in his genes. He is the son of famed Mid Century Modern architect, Gene Leedy, who also left a legacy to Polk County and the world. Robert seems to have inherited and interpreted his own unique perspectives of the world in vivid watercolors. 

“My father did not allow us to have coloring books,” Robert begins while sharing an elegant luncheon with his sister, Helen Knight, of Tampa Bay’s Public Relations firm, King Knight Communications.

Helen interjects, “We had to do our own drawings. Dad did not want us coloring in anyone else’s lines.”

The lines of Robert’s watercolors are as fluid as the medium he employs. “Dad wanted us to create something of our own. Some people need television or other stimulus. I have a great time just looking out of a window.” 

Light is essential to Robert. He speaks of it with reverence and it is evident in his paintings that this is of primary importance. View of Notre Dame from Ile St. Louis, depicts a French cafe with patrons enjoying a modern, sunny day while the historical cathedral looms in the background, separated from the foreground by dark trees. 

Robert spent time in the “City of Lights” and discusses the element. “The natural north light in Paris was more beautiful than the man-made lights. What makes watercolor different is that you’re using the white of the paper. You’re transforming that into a light source. That’s why my watercolors have a fresh look. I play the dark and the light as a contrast because that will guide your eye. Your eye goes to the most extreme contrast. You want to bounce around the painting with the use of light and color. ” 

His color palette is a shade or two more vivid than the subject in reality. He describes his purpose. “My colors have intensification. It excites maybe an otherwise dull subject.”

Calle San Sebastian, Viejo, San Juan, is one of many of Robert’s intensified, but justified cityscapes. The stationary buildings in this Caribbean street scene seem to move with the eye in a forced and layered perspective. Complex architectural elements are complimented by color and light. 

Though many of Robert’s paintings are from subjects in casual settings, formal education was on the path of his discovery of talent. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Valdosta State University in Georgia. “I took an art class. One of my professors commented that I must be an art major. When I told him I wasn’t, he told me I ought to be,” Robert recalls. “I had one eureka moment when taking a drawing class. I looked out at something and said I’m starting to see!” 

Sheila Walsh Leavey, a supporter of the arts and a resident of a Gene Leedy home, compliments, “Robert’s paintings are so fresh. They make me happy.”

His world travels translate into his art. He and wife Vicky Pagan enjoy the sights and light around the globe. Robert has lived in Winter Haven, Jacksonville, Valdosta, Big Sky in Montana, Washington, D.C., The Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Evansville, Indiana, Paris, Denver and currently in Atlanta.

“Every place has its own special light. Light reflects differently off the clouds or water. The quality of light is better in some places than others,” Robert educates. “Learning to look at things and making a mental record of it and understand the significance of it.  I’ve got a big love for nature so it might go a little deeper for me.” 

His father noticed this depth in his son. “Dad saw that I didn’t spend much time in my living room and his whole philosophy of bringing the outdoors in, was his solution for my studio space. I got to see him in his creative process. I get a lot of my ideas of space from my father. It’s in all of us, but some of us readily understand it and need to live with space and light.” 

Gene Leedy built a home for his sister Saffie on Lake Otis. It is one destination of the Lifetime Architectural Works Tour in Winter Haven. Robert used it as a temporary studio when visiting his family.  

That relationship of space and light is evident in his work on the paper and in the response it evokes.  A seemingly simple composition is actually layers of scenic elements. Guana River II: The Outpost Painting, is a peek through a dense, tropical thicket that transports the eye out to a river on the horizon line, and on to beautiful homes in the distance.  

Robert worked as a graphic designer to the specifications of other clients. That discipline became a platform for launching his freedom as a professional artist. “Fine art and graphic art are like night and day.” 

Duscan Tusk, is a night scene that shows the genre of fine art is as much for the creator as the customer. This abstract has cobalt hues and silhouettes in a “limited palette” of a “deconstructed landscape”. He painted Duscan Tusk, earlier in his career and the play on words is just the beginning of another his talents. Robert is a writer and essayist. His journals of his travels and comments on paintings can be found on his extensive and informative Web site, http://www.robertleedy.com where he writes, “If I’m not painting, I’m typing.”

Robert concludes by answering an inquiry about what he sees that makes his work unique. It is as unique as the lavish Bok Tower Gardens, where it will be on exhibit until May 28. “I love the creative process. You have to keep your eyes open. You always know that when you turn that corner there’s going to be something different happening.”

About this entry