Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Driving Notan with Alfred Leslie’s 100 Views Along the Road

April 10, 2009 by  
Filed under contemporary realism, Figure Painting

One of the most unusual way I ever heard of anyone working from life might actually risk death. Alfred Leslie’s practice of drawing while driving is not for the faint of heart. In his book from 1988, 100 Views Along the Road by Alfred Leslie (1988) Timken Publishers
For those who may not be familar with the work of Alfred Leslie (bio link) he is a leading figurative realist painter with early roots in Abstract Expressionism and is also a noted filmmaker (latest film was The Cedar Bar (2002) more info here

I was in used bookstore awhile back and was totally psyched to find this fascinating book on a series of watercolors based on drawings while driving his black 60’s Volvo across country. He figured out a tricky way to both draw and drive at the some time, amazingly without any accidents. Later he transformed these referential marks into studies to eventually create a 100 completed 18 x 24″ watercolors made only with black watercolor.

A drawing study – no info in the book if done while driving but seems likely as is the only example of this type.

One main idea behind his making this series of drawings was to explore the Japanese concept of Notan, which involves the aesthetics of the balance and proportion of white to black in art.
Notan concepts were first put forward in the 1890s by Arthur Wesley Dow, a leading early art educator in the United States,who wanted to push the currently prevalent naturalist styles of art-making into a more formal, abstract arrangement of tone and shape. His book, Composition (1899) was very influential to early American modernists. You can download this book free from Google Books here.

ARTHUR WESLEY DOW A Bend in the River, c. 1895 Color woodcut

Another book on Notan that may be of interest (I ordered it from Amazon but it hasn’t arrived yet) is Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design by Dorr Bothwell

Finally, here are a few choice watercolors – done using no white, only black watercolor.
all around 18″ x 24″ during the 1980’s by Alfred Leslie. As far as I can make out there aren’t very many, if any, online sources to view these amazing watercolors. The book is still available used online.

Alfred Leslie Heading for Gallup, New Mexico

Alfred Leslie Rocky Beach Santa Barbara, CA

Alfred Leslie Rocky Beach Santa Barbara, CA

Alfred Leslie Rocky Beach Santa Barbara, CA

Alfred Leslie Bridge from Mill Creek, Youngstown, Ohio

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9 Responses to “Driving Notan with Alfred Leslie’s 100 Views Along the Road”
  1. Hi Larry,
    Wonderful post on Alfred Leslie. I’m very much interested in your thoughts on the Dorr Bothwell book. Please make sure and post when you’ve had the chance to peruse it! I myself ordered 100 Views Along the Road… beautiful images.

    Thank you for your thoughtful blog. It’s truly a wonderful read both literally and visually.

    • Larry - admin says:

      Thanks Nicole, Hope you like the book. I am on the road myself and probably won’t have a chance to look a the Dorr Bothwell book for a few weeks as I have a few others to get through first. But at first glance it looks intriguing, as does your work – I just peeked at your website, I can see from your work why these Leslie watercolor drawings would appeal to you. Great stuff.

  2. alfred leslie says:

    yes it was done while driving

    • Larry says:

      Wow, I am honored to get your comment Mr. Leslie and I’m incredibly impressed with your watercolors in this book as well as the rest of your art. I think I will leave drawing while driving to the true masters, I have a hard enough time managing as it is!

  3. Constance Leslie says:

    Yes, these works of Alfred Leslie are skilled watercolors but to set the record straight he was not driving while drawing. I was his wife at that time (1971-1989)and I was the driver of the van that we took cross country. While I drove, our three children sat in the back, while Alfred sketched. Although he was multi-talented, I can assure the public that drawing while driving is not on his list of accomplishments. Rewriting history,however,is.

  4. Fred Poisson says:

    I’m curious to learn how he made the black watercolor and also what type of paper was used. Many thanks and what a wonderful site this is!

    • Larry says:

      Hi Fred, Thanks for your kind words about this site. Sorry, I can’t help you with any info about Alfred Leslie’s watercolors – Perhaps you could find out on his website or even email him from there. The book itself I don’t think had that specific information but it is an awesome book and well worth getting in any event.

  5. I’ve owned this monograph for years. It’s one of my very favorite art books. If you can find it at a reasonable price, grab it! It was originally published, for a brief time, at $50.00 in 1988. It went to $60.00 on January 1, 1989. I have no idea of its value at this time. I can only say that Leslie is a brilliant artist and the book is a treasure.

  6. Jack barouh says:

    Never knew any of this. Introduced to Alfred’s works some four years ago. Very much an aficionado. Will begin to follow now on line.

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