Sue Ellen Leys grew up in both New Jersey and Memphis, Tennessee, with a background in the arts. A BFA from Washington University in St. Louis led to a career in fashion design, styling, and costume design for theatre in Los Angeles, New York City, regionally, & the UK.
“Part of my process in creating narrative paintings is the seeing, experiencing, and documenting events through my candid photography. I apply my sense of design & stylization to scenes of people celebrating art, music, & style. I am attracted to dramatic lighting: directional, sunny, or dark. In my studio, the photos are a starting point, but a lot of unexpected things happen when I paint. The backgrounds are built up in many layers. When working in encaustic and the wax is scraped & carved, the sculptural texturing is akin to preparing a linocut. Drawing has always been a great love, so I incorporate line into the work and I am more interested in gesture than an exact likeness. As in theatre costuming, I observe clothing and gesture as an extension of the character.”
Since 2003, the artist has been working in the encaustic medium, which lends itself to studies in light, movement, & layers of mystery. It is an ancient process-oriented method of painting with heated and fused pigmented beeswax. In 2017 her encaustic work was included in a “Bay Area Figurative” juried show and catalogue curated by John Seed in California: “Honoring the Legacy of David Park” at Santa Clara University.
Sue Ellen’s oil paintings often depict individuals in architectural settings, such as shop and restaurant windows. One in the VACNJ International Juried Show (juried by Thelma Golden) is described by William Zimmer (The New York Times, April 7,1996) as "a low key celebration of the contemporary world, ...representational painting (being) the most alluring in this show."
She has shown work in over two dozen solo and group shows, some of which are listed on the left. Please refer to the two “Shows” pages for more details on current and past exhibitions.