Leslie Hewitt is a New York-based artist who makes abstract sculptures, assemblage-based photographs, and collaborative films. She often constructs visual puzzles from mixed compositions, and her photographs are often displayed in maple frames propped up against walls.
Hewitt grew up in Queens, New York in a family that had artists, musicians, fashion designers, dancers, and photographers as friends. Her mother attended the March on Washington in 1963, and Hewitt and her brothers would always watch the 1980s documentary “Eyes on the Prize” to look for her. Hewitt received her B.F.A. from Cooper Union in 2000. She won a fellowship in African Studies and Cultural Studies at New York University from 2001-2003 and received her M.F.A. from Yale University in 2004. In 2012, she moved into Harlem, a few blocks from where her grandfather worked as a police captain. Both sets of her grandparents settled there during the great migration of African Americans from the south.
Her series “Riffs on Real Time,” begun 2002, and “Still Life” 2013 feature still-life tableaux recalling ‘vanities’ paintings. Hewitt’s series “Midday” 2009 conflated Harlem, New York with Haarlem in the Netherlands. Hewitt was fascinated with seventeenth century Holland. There is a resonance between her photo-sculptures and the vanitas paintings from this period as she was drawn to the lens-based Dutch optical tradition due to her own interest in optics and the rendering of light. At the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands she studied Dutch still life as an important historical genre and its relationship to the Middle Passage. She was “fascinated with the brutality of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and Western colonialism, which is not directly pictured but haunts every single Dutch painting. “
Hewitt often collaborates with other artists in big sculpture projects and in her lens-based work. Her video installation “Untitled (Structures),” which she produced with cinematographer Bradford Young in 2012, was inspired by Civil Rights-era photographs and was shot on location at historically charged sites in Memphis, Chicago, and New York.
Hewitt uses ubiquitous objects like plywood and gravitates toward systems and patterns such as the graph drawings of Agnes Martin. If there is anything in her work that lends itself to the feminine, it is her specific use of interiors – although geometric and angular – that are womblike.
Hewitt’s work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, Dallas Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.