Art as Therapy: Emotions flow freely through Jessica Leto’s abstracts


Artist Jessica Leto firmly believes that when one door closes, another one opens.

Leto and Evan Schwarze are the two newest partners at Gallery 14, where the October show features Leto’s exhibit, Color Confessions: Abstracts; and Schwarze’s exhibit, Light and Leisure: Impressionism, on display through Oct. 27.

With Leto, after a couple of life’s major changes occurred within days of each other this past spring, she received a welcome but unexpected call in June asking her to join the gallery’s talented and diverse group of artists as a new partner. They felt that Leto, an abstract painter with a distinct color palette, would be a good fit for the gallery.

“It’s just kismet, divine intervention really, to learn that Gallery 14 has been watching my progress for the last three years. It’s funny, you just never know who’s paying attention,” says Leto, who moved to Vero Beach about six years ago from Palm Beach County.

“What’s meant for you will find you. You don’t know the timing; you never know who is paying attention. If it makes your soul sing, do it. Do more of it.”

The change has brought about a new-found freedom to let her artwork flow from her inner self, rather than from her head. The result, she says, is that she is painting better than ever before.

“When something is so deeply destroyed in you, you then pull from that depth of pain, and you just dump it out on the canvas. And it holds it. The canvas cages it, the emotion, the hurt, the hope,” she explains.

While those two earlier events are still almost too painful to talk about, she acknowledges that it brought about a major shift in her paintings; evidence that an inner strength sprang forward into action.

“This situation has fueled this part of me to create the best I’ve ever created. It’s more emotional. It’s raw, it’s pure me. And it’s flowing out.”

Originally from Hampton, Va., Leto says that while she has never wavered in her belief that art is who she is and always will be, she needed to be realistic. As a result, while she obtained a BA in studio art from Florida Atlantic, her concentration was in graphic design, which would help her find work.

“Art is a form of therapy for me. It’s what I do; I’ve done it since I was a kid,” says Leto, who has explored various techniques, including mixed media, and collage. She also tried portraiture but found it stressful.

“I’m a person who likes control. In portraits, it has to be exact, you control every element.

Even one shadow off and it doesn’t look like the person,” she explains. “I am in my era of abstraction just now, and I love how it makes me feel.”

The transition to abstract happened while she was in-between jobs having left “a very toxic job,” during which she had stopped her artwork. However, she decided to revisit it during that time of unemployment and uncertainty.

“I just dove deeper in it and re-discovered my passion for it. Not that the passion had ever left, but at times you have to prioritize,” says Leto.

“That was a very stressful period for me, so [art] was quite honestly a life saver. It helped me get through it. Cheaper than therapy, though art supplies add up. But, yes, things happen for a reason,” says Leto.

As an intuitive painter, she speaks through color and brush strokes.

“I start with a general palette, or colors I’d like to see together. It’s really curiosity that pushes it. I try and take colors that don’t necessarily belong together, but I need to unify them. There may be a deeper meaning than that, but I then use my background, my education, to apply balance, unity, and composition to make it work. The canvas knows, it tells me when its done, and that’s when I stop,” says Leto.

She often integrates gold leaf in her work, explaining, “It adds a nice touch, a nice dimension.”

Although excited about the upcoming gallery show, she says, “I am basically modest and reserved, an introvert, but my paintings are anything but. It’s like I have to live through the paintings and maybe that’s why it works. But I do want the paintings to speak for themselves. It’s a disservice if I’m telling you what you are seeing. That is never my goal.”

It is only recently that she began adding titles to her work, having felt strongly that she didn’t want to lead the viewer’s interpretation.

“Now they are deserving of names because they are living, breathing emotions. They deserve a place to be acknowledged. It’s almost like they are my children,” says Leto.

“It’s taken me a really long time to put myself out there with abstracts. You either love it, you hate it, or you just don’t get it, but that’s fine. My art isn’t for everyone. I hope to get people to just pause and look deep within the layers, not listening to those who say, ‘Oh, my 5-year-old could do that.’ That’s really crippling to hear,” she explains.

“If you just pause and look deep within the layers and the marks, it is poetic. Every stroke is intentional. The juxtaposition of color is intentional. The blending is so thought out.”

Today, Leto feels fortunate that she can sell her art, build her own website, and, as a mom, can work remotely from home.

“I want to live my best self. It pays to be true to yourself,” said Leto, who hopes to be able to add something new to Gallery 14.

“There’s room for all of us, all of the different styles and mediums,” says Leto.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

Comments are closed.