The Fourth Wall


Leigh Wells

Tensile Strength

“Art is restoration: the idea is to repair the damages that are inflicted in life, to make something that is fragmented—which is what fear and anxiety do to a person—into something whole.” —Louise Bourgeois

Leigh Wells approaches her practice as one of construction and repair, mending and restoring, reuse and reinvention. She creates abstract paper collage and collage-like works with painted found fabric, seeing these as diagrams or portraits of mental states such as desire or sadness, loneliness or pleasure. Her art practice is both a metaphor and an actual tool for re-building. Can we withstand life’s losses without breaking? The making of Wells’ work resembles our mind’s layered memories and thoughts, and how trauma may be healed through reframing our pasts.

Grounded in the world through sight and touch, Wells became curious about reuse and repair as part of her family’s “make do” ethos. Her religious and class background didn’t encourage curiosity or intellect, especially in women, but these dissonances in her young life formed an interest in metaphysics and psychology that is her practice’s foundation. The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott hypothesized that interaction with “transitional objects” could be a way to acknowledge and heal psychological wounds, strengthening the self. Like him, Wells imagines this interaction with objects and the process of art making as ways to grieve and mend.

Her works presented at Fourth Wall Gallery simultaneously evoke a sense of vulnerability and groundedness. The show’s title, “Tensile Strength” refers to "the resistance of a material to breaking under tension.” For Wells, these works, ultimately, represent a timeless, internal strength that can not be broken.

Leigh Wells is a 2022 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant recipient, was a recent SFMOMA SECA Award nominee and is a visiting artist at Minnesota Street Studios in San Francisco. Her work has been shown in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Hamburg and Amsterdam. Bay Area solo shows include Gregory Lind Gallery, Ampersand International Arts, Gallery 16, Jack Fischer Gallery (two person show) and The Fourth Wall Gallery.