There are many ways to perceive art: it can be a mean to escape reality or to embellish it. But some artists prefer to see it as a tool to reflect their contemporary society. It is the case of Cleveland based painter Leigh Bongiorno.
The impressive photo realism of her work is the result of her experience as a medical illustrator. Indeed, she decided to get a degree in Biomedical Illustration to join the forensic artists who help solve missing persons cases. The powerful impact of her artworks can thus be explained both by her « surgical precision » and her dedication to give a dignity back to forgotten people. Of course, Leigh chose to make life-sized portraits so she could highlight those who are usually hiding or hidden by our society. And when facing the canvas, you’ll soon realize that they are, in fact, bigger than life.
In the United States of 2018, the artist has decided to travel around the country to give a visual account of the various lifestyles and cultures that are often marginalized by the mass medias. Interested in authentic stories, she makes friend with her models, trying to see life through their eyes. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from [their] point of view, until you climb inside of [their] skin and walk around in it.” said writer Harper Lee, author of the deeply human book To Kill A Mockingbird. This piece of advice, Leigh Bongiorno seems to apply it with painting. Her will to « shine a light on the forgotten » doesn’t solely rely on evocative and empathic portraits, enriched by the powerful links she created with her subjects. No, the social, human bond goes beyond the canvas and the beholder can, in turn, not only be moved by the persons pictured, but also, feel closer to them. Even part of them.
The sensitive portraits can introduce you to poor, disabled and homeless people, transgenders, drag queens and lgbtq+ of Cleveland, Los Angeles and Miami, but, mainly, they introduce you to Humanity. The one of the others, and yours. Obviously, the themes chosen by Leigh Bongiorno can be quite sad, for example the mass shootings and loss of innocence of the young generation. But thanks to her artistic talent, the soul of the human beings she paints is shining so bright that it warms our heart and gives us hope. Because this is another thing that art can be: a precious way to learn how to love each others in a world where hate is spreading.