Leigh Brooklyn was born in 1987 outside of Cleveland, Ohio. In 2006 Brooklyn enrolled into the Columbus College of Art and Design, later transferring to The Cleveland Institute of Art. She earned her degree in Biomedical Illustration in 2011 and worked with several hospitals, museums, and research facilities including the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, The Cleveland Botanical Gardens, The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Case Western Reserve University, and Novelmed Therapeutics.
In 2011 Brooklyn began moving throughout the country gaining artistic inspiration from various individuals she met through her pursuit of street photography. After hearing all the incredible stories of those she encountered and drawing from her own personal experiences Brooklyn decided to switch her work’s focus back to her roots of figurative drawing and oil painting. In 2019 Brooklyn began learning techniques for creating large scale sculptures out of oil-based clay to be cast in bronze and began taking welding courses for use in her sculptural work. After a personal upheaval in 2019 Brooklyn also began to narrow her focus toward painting women for her new women’s empowerment series titled, the “Women’s Militia.”
Brookly has won a variety of awards for her art since 2004. She recently was a semi-finalist for Figurtivas 2019 at the MEAM in Barcelona, Spain. Her work has been displayed in galleries and museums all over the country including the Makeshift Museum in Los Angeles, the Cleveland Institute of Art, the U.S. Capitol Building and Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C., The Alliance and Lichtundfire Galleries in New York, and the Diane von Furstenberg Studio. She currently resides in her hometown of Cleveland where she plans to further expand her artistic and humanitarian endeavors in the local, national, and international community.
Specializing in figurative painting and drawing, my practice originates from an intense drive to create compelling images and stories meant to inspire and give hope. I have studied realism my entire life, dedicating my education to learning how to recreate what I observe with accurate detail.
My earlier work was created with the intention to give a voice to the voiceless, creating compelling portraits and figurative-based narrative paintings and drawings to provide representation for underrepresented communities and people. My education as a medical Illustrator has informed much of my practice with a concern for details and observation, but my work evolved to focus on stories and people. My passion for activism led me to paint stories imbued with causes like women’s rights, LGBTQ equality and acceptance, anti-racism, homelessness, gun reform, disability awareness, and many other subjects.
Although my current body of work still focuses on stories and people, I have now narrowed my focus toward women. Inspired largely by personal experiences and partly by the military presence in my family, my new body of work is focused on building an army of women warriors, armed and ready to defend the good in the world. One soldier at a time, I am creating a female militia to unite, overcome, uplift and fight for ourselves and each other. This army of diverse women are survivors who will overcome all battles, together and alone.
I want to contribute to this world while I am here in it, and my art is the way that I can do that. Guided by the tumultuous times in our culture, as well as my own personal battles, my work must uplift and motivate awareness and change. Through my work, I want to capture the issues that are important to our collective community, and inspire others with my symbolic soldiers.
What does “Gaze” mean to you & how do you connect it to your work?
When thinking of the male gaze, I think of women’s body’s being broken down into parts; legs, hips, and breasts. The way women are portrayed in art and in the media has traditionally not been one of strength, and perseverance but rather the object of desire. They have not been depicted to show their struggles and their resilience to overcome. They have not been the strong leads in film, but instead the supporting actress. Even if the woman is the lead of her own heroine adventure she will still almost always be required to dress scandalously and need to ask the man for help. I have chosen to portray women in my work in a way that shows their humanity and determination. The women in my work do not shy away or lounge gracefully. They stare the viewer directly in the eyes, reclaiming the gaze and letting the viewer know that they see them and there is going to be a change in how things are going to be done. My women are fighters that have overcome their battles and they are here to stay.