Artist of the Week

Madeleine Leplae

December 26, 2022


Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I was born in Biarritz, France but quickly moved to Milwaukee where I grew up before going to SAIC for my BFA in 2013. I’ve been living in Chicago since starting college and have a studio where I paint as often as I can. Since graduating in 2017 I’ve worked in model shops creating package design, I led a gilding department making gold frames, and now I’m working as a tailor for wedding gowns. All these jobs taught me so much about finesse and have greatly impacted my paintings along with supporting my studio practice financially.

First Kill

How has your art practice changed & evolved over the years?

My practice began during my last year at SAIC where I was painting kitchen scenes and table settings almost exclusively. These paintings were loose and transparent as opposed to my recent paintings which are opaque and highly measured. Table settings led to butterflies eating fruit, which led to flowers dancing in windows, to trees and rural roads. Though the imagery has changed and been refined over the years there has always been a sort of presence of absence in the paintings. I’ve been becoming more interested in the story that’s just out of frame.

What is your favorite medium to create with and why?

Right now, I love using oil paint. There’s so much versatility in the medium and I feel connected to the history of painting when I use it. 

Splinter Tree

There are recurring depictions of nature in your work. What draws you to this imagery and what does it symbolize to you? 

I’ve always had an aversion to drawing/painting the human form. Once you remove figures from your world you’re basically left with nature and architecture. I think there’s an inherent strength to nature and I remember being moved in middle school when I learned about Romanticism in art and literature. I’m honestly still trying to find the words to explain why I am so drawn to using depictions of nature as characters in my work, but it has been a consistent part of my practice.

Where do you primarily source imagery & textures from? (Life, found images, imagination, memories, etc.)

I’m constantly taking photos on my phone of basically anything that catches my eye to have an archive of images. If I’m looking for something specific or weird, Google images is one of my favorite resources. It’s amazing how you can string together almost any description and you’ll probably find something close to what you’re looking for. These Google searches have also inspired imagery as sometimes I end up finding an unimaginably perfect image. I’ve also spent hundreds of hours being a passenger driving through the midwest, these colors and landscapes have become increasingly influential in my paintings. In the end though all the imagery is filtered through my imagination, and I make many sketches based on previous thumbnail sketches until it becomes an idealized version of the source image.

Trying to Save a Dying Tree

Ideas of death and nature exist in your work (for example a sword stabbing a tree inFirst kill, or Trying to Save a Giant Tree). How do you approach these overlapping themes in your work? 

Many of my paintings reference some violence on the characters, and I started this early with my tree paintings by having their trunks cut with an axe. Trees are bodily and have similar shape and size to humans. As a human I find it hard not to think about life, death, and all the horrible things that could happen in between. By switching the context to trees I can explore these ideas without making work that I would personally find unpleasant to be around. I think it also gives me more space to think about death and violence through a poetic lens instead of dread because when leaves die, they become incredibly beautiful. 

I love the elegant use of geometry in your pieces, how do you begin creating a composition?

I am attracted to symmetry and it drives so much of my compositions, I’m super influenced by the old masters and the ways they investigated the math behind composition and created strict rules to follow. Almost every drawing begins by dissecting the canvas with a horizontal middle line and a vertical middle line. From here I use a yardstick and compass to draw the silhouettes of my characters, everything is carefully measured and decided before paint goes down. It might seem limiting but there is still so much freedom that comes from paint and the work is never anything like I expected from the beginning.

The very first leaf to fall from a tree

Many of your pieces have an almost otherworldly quality to them (ex. Dewey Tree). If the scenes you depict existed in real life, what do you think they would feel/smell/taste like?

In a way I think that my paintings are really realistic depictions of our actual world. I just try to catch those “once in a lifetime” moments when everything lines up perfectly for a millisecond before succumbing to the disorder of nature. I believe they represent a strange version of our world where nothing smells like anything, tastes like anything, or feels like anything. More like a frozen cell of an animation.

What artists inspire you? 

I’m inspired by so many artists and just the fact that humans make art in general. Right now, I’m crazy about Sharon Ellis, Roy Lichtenstein, Judy Bowman, Emily Furr, Celeste Rapone, Allan D’arcangelo, and M.C Escher.

Dewey tree

What is your studio setup / workspace like? 

I’m a fairly neat painter and don’t need much in my studio! I have a desk with a drawing area covered in rulers, compasses, protractors, and homemade stencils, and a small rolling cart filled with my brushes, mediums, and paints. Other than that, I like to work on one painting at a time and have my canvases along a big white wall. I share my space with painter Sean Gannon.

What are you currently listening to? 

I will listen to literally anything, especially while I’m painting. Recently, I’ve been in a 2009 sad girl mood. Lots of lykee Li and telepopmusik.

Red sun blocked by a rose bush

Any guilty pleasures?

Lofi Christmas music right now.

What upcoming projects / pieces are you excited about? 

I’m honestly in a funk right now and struggling to come up with new ideas so I’ve been looking back at some of my old drawings as sources for my paintings and I’m feeling excited about it. I’m also in the process of submitting applications for a painting MFA and I’m really looking forward to hopefully starting somewhere in the fall. 


Interview Conducted by Ben Herbert and Drafted by Milo Christie