Leisa Shannon Corbett is a multi-talented professional artist with extensive credentials including a BA from Berlin, Germany’s European Division of the University of Maryland, and a Masters in Fine Art, Visual Arts, with 60 hours from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Leisa is a landscape, figurative, and abstract painter who explores her subjects—be it a stormy rural setting, the play of light on objects, or the very personal struggles and inner nature of the people in her portraits–with psychological and spiritual depth.
She has an abiding interest in exploring spaces and shapes as inspiration for creative reverie. Her explorations often take the form of large geometric abstractions that suggest urban architecture whether it be inspired by living in the walled city of Berlin or visiting downtown Chicago.
Like most artistic people she has an interesting and eclectic background that has helped to define her work.
She has lived and worked abroad for many years, as well as California, Vermont and Texas, but her heart and soul remain in her own words “as a true Midwesterner born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri.”
Returning to those Midwestern roots and living among the prairie and wetlands of Northern Illinois during the past few years has inspired Leisa to paint naturalistic landscapes that reveal the joy, wonder, and peace she feels living in the Midwest.
Her home literally reflects the multi-facets of her work and life story, as the blending of the multi-colored walls room to room highlight her paintings. From the self-portrait in the breakfast room, through the landscapes and architectural abstracts on her dining and living room walls, paintings and photographs down her basement stairs, to her studio in the basement: her artwork helps describe and define her life.
As we talked about her paintings we learned so much of who she is both as an artist and a person. Leisa is in many ways as diverse and interesting as her subject matter. She is an unabashed liberal who also served eight years in the US Army as a Military Intelligence Specialist, interrogator, and German linguist before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was there she met her first husband, Bill Corbett, and they settled in Germany as ex-pats after she left the army. While living in Berlin Leisa earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in art history, then exhibited and sold her paintings in local galleries. She also ran a business conducting tours of Berlin art museums for English speaking tourists.
She has also combined her love of art with the more unlikely topics of disease and medicine. After Bill was diagnosed with deadly cancer, she captured his struggle on canvas. One of these portraits later appeared in an article for the University Of Oklahoma Medical School on how visual art can help to portray the struggles of disease and medicine—in this case the visual effect of radiation treatments for cancer. Her paintings of Bill’s valiant struggle as he was dying of cancer was her way as an artist to process “the abstraction which is about all those feelings that you can’t find words for.” Her renderings freed her husband to be more open about his personal struggle, allowed her to process her grief, and eventually showed others medically trained what a person fighting cancer inwardly feels.
After Bill’s death she returned to the United States to continue her art studies in Vermont. She later moved to Texas where she taught art history, art appreciation, drawing and painting. It was in Texas that she met and married her current husband Jay.
She found the rural Texas landscape and the vast cloud formations during and after storms a new fascination. She has also explored the more abstract with visualizations of such diverse topics as winter in Berlin, or the play of light on objects and spaces.
She captures the very essence and humanity of her subjects in her portraiture, whether it is the personal agony and courage of her dying husband, the “drama queen” within her elderly mother, or the inner personality of her husband Jay. She realizes a very personal relationship has to be established between painter and subject and it sometimes startles the person to see themselves so deeply portrayed.
Whether traveling or simply observing the play of light through her window while sipping her morning coffee, she quickly captures her subjects with digital photos and then transforms these images onto canvas.
Corbett is also a lecturer and art instructor, having taught art history, art appreciation, drawing and painting. She has exhibited her work in commercial and university galleries and juried exhibitions in Europe and the United States. Currently her work can be seen at the Dandelion Gallery in Waukegan. Leisa joined the juried artist co-op, The Dandelion Gallery, in 2011 when it was founded by two young native Waukeganites and teachers, Emilie Dieck-Correa and Michelle Mescenic-Patch.
When asked how her participation in this gallery and artist co-op has affected her she said “it literally changed my life.” She said The Dandelion Gallery and the arts movement in downtown Waukegan have opened up so many artist opportunities that she never saw in other places she has lived. Leisa said that often arts organizations can be very subjective and competitive, but her experience with the Dandelion has been totally welcoming and supportive.
She said some of the artists who were juried into the co-op literally cried when they were accepted. “The co-founders and this gallery have allowed the artists to learn and grow by being around each other and helping each other to be better artists.” She said Michelle and Emilie have set an honest, open tone with their fellow artists that “we are all in this together”.
Together the artists have shared marketing ideas, critiqued each other’s work in a non-threatening way, and treated fellow artists as professionals who are also colleagues managing the business of selling their art. She said the current stable of artists know about art, help each other, and have the right attitude. She “has never felt threatened by competition” or that she was “anything but welcome in [her] artistic endeavors.” She has sold many paintings through this gallery and found connections to the people who have bought them and now love them. Gallery open houses and monthly Waukegan ArtWauks have literally introduced her through art to the community around her. “The gallery and walks make everyone feel comfortable and allow everyone to experience art in a friendly setting.”
She said that discovering Waukegan’s art scene and especially her work with the Dandelion Gallery has literally changed her life and she is “so damn glad to be there!”