Hilton Leech - "Preview"

Wed, May 13, 2020 at 9:00AM

By Amanda Mitchell, Security


Hilton Leech was a master at capturing the essence of Florida. His evocative paintings detail the hidden mysteries of this landscape. Preview is no exception. Keeping with the vein of Mr. Leech’s thematic ideals of romanticism and abstraction, Preview dances along the lines of the elements of design. Hilton Leech utilizes elements such as color and contrast to illuminate the dichotomy of Florida. At its heart, the Sunshine State is a curtain of paradise concealing the treacherous wild within. Time spent in this state evokes a special Florida feeling and Mr. Leech bottles that feeling and conveys it through deft use of his palette and brush upon the canvas of Preview.

Hilton Leech, "Preview," ca. 1940; oil on board

If you were to sail into the coast of Florida, you might catch sight of mangroves dotting the shoreline. This saltwater plant also snakes its way inland. The vision of mangroves would be your preview to the seductive state of Florida, and so it is in Hilton Leech’s painting aptly titled Preview. But wait, upon a second look, do those mangroves upon the canvas actually resemble the wild woods of the Sunshine State? If you were a pioneer settling your way into Florida, you may be clearing a trail through the dense growth, and the gnarled trees would be your preview to an unbroken environment, yet to be civilized. Here we have a subtle dichotomy and the title of Mr. Leech’s painting fits both sides of the message he is conveying. We may have settled Florida, but it is still wild at heart.

This dichotomy is further represented in the overall prismatic effect of Preview. It is the mark of a fine painting when there seems to be light emitting from within the canvas. Hilton Leech effectively executes this trick of the paint and pushes it one step further. He breaks the light into geometrical shapes so that there is almost a cubist effect in the painting. When the eye views this, it creates a jolt in awareness and a split is created. The feeling is mildly unsettling, as is the feeling of living in Florida, a state that can in one moment be a virtual paradise, and the next, a hellish nightmare.

After looking at the vegetation, the eye of the beholder is carried to the tops of the branches, where the light seems to catch in geometrical pools. Or, could the light in the mangroves actually be the cobwebs of the wild woods? Paradise or nightmare?

Continuous contrast creates a dance, a rhythm of movement. This can have the effect of jolting one out of the world of the literal and into the world of the visceral. No longer in the realm of the mind, but more in the realm of the heart, where feeling domineers lateral thought. Preview delivers this romantic feeling to the viewer and further conveys that feeling through the soft veneer of the artfully colored canvas.

Preview, in addition to its romantic elements, also carries aspects of the abstract. The overall scenery is not painted to strict lifelike detail. Hilton Leech preferred to reveal the resemblance of life and then would leave it to the viewer to fill in the rest. The artist’s use of white and black outline is another abstraction of reality.

His palette of color is suggestive of sunset, where we move into a night of dreams and possibilities. Florida is a land of dreams and possibility, and the viewer can see this magic suggested in Mr. Leech’s use of purple. This highlight is a pleasant contrast to the darker tones of brown wood and green earth and burnt orange sky. The bright orange to yellow-white sun captures the eye last and holds it there, while the beholder appreciates the overall effect of contrast, as seen in the rough and smooth brush strokes.

Preview beckons one onto a journey of adventure and discovery. It invites the viewer into the wild world of Florida and reminds one to not take anything at face value, like those hills in the background which are suggestive of mountains. With this detail, maybe the artist displays the spirit of Florida as being larger than its footprint on the map. This Florida feeling is conveyed through the numerous uses of contrast within the painting. Hilton Leech takes another nod at contrast by signing his painting in light blue on the lower left, as opposed to the lower right. The Florida feeling is also conveyed through the idealistic themes of romanticism and abstraction. This nightmarish paradise is acutely represented in this fine painting by Hilton Leech.

Preview by Hilton Leech can be viewed at the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art as part of the Seminole and the Everglades exhibit within the France Family Gallery.

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