Art

The Art of Nature at Brown

A Brown Professor's activism shines through in her paintings

Alicia Kamm
Posted

Leslie Bostrom is Professor of Visual Art and Chair of the Visual Art department at Brown University. She is an accomplished artist, but she also holds another, much darker position that few know about. She’s an undertaker. And she doesn’t even have to leave campus to fulfil her grim duties.

Natural light peers through the windows of her studio. Massive canvases lie propped against the walls, tempting visitors to sneak a peek at the mysterious paintings on the other side. Stacks of sketch books brimming with museum-worthy renderings compete with Audubon magazines for floor space. Brilliant acrylic paints abound, along with an array of Pepperidge Farm Pirouette tins.

Bostrom, an avid birder, credits her childhood days in the country for subconsciously cultivating her passion for nature. Growing up outside of Poughkeepsie, New York, Leslie spent summers at a family home in the Adirondacks, wandering for miles, allowing the intoxicating crisp air and soulful symphony of flute-like notes sung from summer birds penetrate her soul.

The List Art Building at Brown is where Bostrom dons the black hat of an undertaker. A birder, as you might expect, is “totally into birds” and as such she takes it upon herself to handle the final arrangements for the birds that don’t make it past the mammoth glass windows of the List Art Building. She’s humble about her side gig, stating that she briefly takes note of the species before giving the bird a memorial. Besides, it’s not the pomp and circumstance that matters. The gesture itself speaks volumes about her wholehearted respect for Mother Earth and all her creatures.

Bostrom’s upcoming show, Monster Flowers, is a series of oil and acrylic paintings on large scale canvases. The series artistically bridges the gap between humanity and the environment, inviting us to connect the dots of the complex relationship between them. Monster Flowers is as alive, energetic and playful as it is somber and serious. One painting, Yellow Glove, shows a chestnut-colored bird with a creamy white speckled breast perched beside a stump. The stump, a decaying remnant of an axed tree, appears alive through jolting strokes of electric blue and snow white. In fact, Bostrom’s entire painting seems to radiate life through vibrant shades of dandelion yellow and India green – except for the discarded yellow glove. This misfit element stands out from the canvas serving as a poignant reminder that the human hand is everywhere.

Her art is palpable, authentic and beautiful, and that’s exactly what she wants people to see. “I don’t want to upset people. I want people to love my art. My first work is to make art, to make these paintings. My activism shines through my art.”

Monster Flowers will debut at The Chazan Gallery at the Wheeler School on Gallery Night, Thursday September 19, and will run through October 9. The Chazan Gallery is located at 228 Angell Street.