Since receiving an MFA in painting in 1982, Raye Leith has taught every age group at every venue, from elementary schoolers to the aged, and from homeless shelters to universities. While artistic anatomy, figure painting and drawing are her main areas of expertise, her MFA minor was in Blacksmithing and Sculpture, and her B.A. concentration was in Ceramics.
Raye maintains an art studio in the artists’ building at 52 “O” Street, NW. She has taught privately there and paints portraits on commission as well as doing large figure drawings knitted into abstracted landscapes. She is also painting a series of portraits of homeless men and women who are guests at SOME across the street from her studio. Having served many lunches there, she is a regular with her camera and coffee pot.
She has been teaching at the University of Maryland at College Park—graduate and undergraduate students in costume-, lighting- and set- design students. Her task is to present complicated subject matter (complete muscles and bones of the figure) while also being charged with “loosening their drawings up”. Design students need to have a great deal of verve (risk-taking with technique, content and style) while being very clear in the communication of their ideas to directors and producers who may lack the visual skills of the artist. The more students learn the detailed languages of anatomy and perspective, and the techniques of rendering, the more creative and personal their works become.
Raye is aware of the importance of a good connection with students and the unconditional support for individual artistic inquiry. Art teachers and art classes have the power to bring much to the surface, be it political or personal, and therefore a sensitive and strong teacher is imperative in the handling and encouragement of the tremendous variety of student ages, personalities and potential. Her website is www.rayeleith.org.
Over the years, students who felt they had no talent have found their voice in my classes through skill building and recognizing threads in their perception of the world around them. Students have come to know me for a high level of energy and personal commitment to each student at every level. While demanding a great deal from each student, I encourage/prod based on motivation and ability. I also place a premium on communication between students. Because art is a form of communication, discussion, and critiques are integral in her classes. I will often ask students to take a walk around the room to see how everyone else is tackling their goals. My mantra is: rob, steal and pillage because art is not made in a vacuum. Ideas and techniques are in the public domain and sharing will only bring richer results. Observance of one another’s line quality reveals how unmistakable someone else’s ‘signature’ marks are, and ultimately impossible to reproduce. Our mind’s eye and handling of materials is as unique and remarkable as our fingerprint.
I joke that Oskar Kokoschka was my great-grandfather, or that I'm a holdover spirit from Vienna in 1900, because that is where my painting sensibility lives. German Expressionist, Pre-Raphaelite and Japanese painting are always at my side, influencing my painting.
I have always been a figure painter, beginning at age 11 at the Art Students League of New York. I never tire of the twists and turns of the human landscape. Asymmetry creates movement in art, and humans offer many asymmetries from noses to gestures, setting compositions in motion.
Capturing the spirit of the sitter takes precedent over likeness. I have a deeper interest in how line/brush quality, color and composition are all responses to the individual sitting before me. When the spirit of the paint tells the viewer something about the sitter's heart, I am gratified.