Deep Into the Shallow with Léni Paquet-Morante
Sludge along the road. A vine clinging to a tree. A stick in the mud. To most of us, these are the most ordinary of objects in nature. To artist Léni Paquet-Morante, they are earthly delights.
The contemporary painter and sculptor, a 2020 Phillips’ Mill Juried Art Show winner, looks to the landscape for inspiration and finds beauty and intrigue in its intricate structures as well as its sweeping vistas. More and more, she is drawn to the water, particularly shallow water—creeks, puddles, wetlands—mesmerized by its layers and movement.
It is not unusual for Paquet-Morante to pull off to the side of the road when she notices an interesting body of water or just some tracks in the mud. She may grab her sketch pad and markers or camera to capture a detail or two, and later return with a blank canvas. Back in her studio, as she interprets the scene, it becomes a personal expression of what she saw and felt. “I don’t paint from photos,” she explains.
Today, Paquet-Morante is digging deep from within as she sketches, paints and sculpts a series of water-themed works she cannot escape. They have become a part of her. “I get lost in what I am doing,” she says. “I dig and dig and dig and see where things go.”
The crown jewel of the series, a bronze sculpture she calls “Stick in the Mud,” currently consumes and delights her. It continues to evolve in her studio at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ, taking shape in a pool of shallow water, within a 14-gauge steel pan. Every day, she attends to the details and subtle nuances of the piece while the water it sits in slowly evaporates and reveals a transformation.
Throughout the process, she recalls how the water in the creek continually reveals and hides layers of slush and stone, sticks and sediment. It has led her to expand her signature palette of earthy colors, from dull and rusty to reflective and vibrant, and she ponders a patina of gold mica dust to be the finishing touch.
Over the years, she has gained considerable acclaim for her landscape paintings, which have often also evolved from drawings of commonplace objects in nature, such as vines and trees and puddles.
In 2020, her painting “Vines at Canal Water” earned her the 2020 Phillips’ Mill Art Show Award for Abstract Painting. She was unsure the painting would even be accepted and was deeply honored to be recognized with the award. As a result, she was able to expand her reach, thanks in part to the prestige and large audience of the Phillips’ Mill show. Though already an established artist in our region, the additional publicity from the show was a boost to Paquet-Morante.
“I am a working artist. I do this full time, and consider it a pleasure and a privilege to be able to pay my bills creating art,” she continues. She learned to trust her instincts and become a full-time artist in 2018 after twenty years raising her family, creating art and working as an administrator at an architectural and fine arts metal shop.
As she continues to teach, create and explore nature, she also looks to engage with more galleries and collectors. Earlier this year, her exhibition of paintings and drawings reflective of her current water theme, aptly titled “Puddle Architecture,” was on display online and by appointment at the Gallery at Mercer County Community College. She describes her painting style as “not polite,” and you can see it in the broad strokes of color and energy in this body of work.
“When I am painting,” she explains,” I throw my whole self into it—my arms, my hips.” And clearly her heart.
About the Artist
Léni Paquet-Morante was born in Quebec, Canada, and grew up in Maryland. A graduate of the Mason School of Art at Rutgers University, she also studied sculpture at the Johnson Atelier in Hamilton. In addition to MCCC, she has exhibited at the Arts Council of Princeton, Artworks, Grounds for Sculpture and many other local venues. Her works can be found in many permanent and private collections internationally.