Human Quarry is a large work on paper by Leslie Shows made of a combination of acrylic paint and collage. Both through its title and formally—through how the shapes in the composition resemble a mountain or natural formation—the piece relays us to a mineral quarry or a deep mining pit where materials are extracted. Interspersed among the block-like figures and rocky textures, we also see several human silhouettes, either cut-out, or as if they were whited out by a shining light, or lost in the shadows. There’s additional evidence of human presence: architectural features such as steps and a window, and symmetrical forms that resemble an X-ray scan or an inkblot from a Rorschach test. These references are collisions of opposing forces—positive and negative space, light and dark, presence and absence, consciousness and the subconscious. Together they comprise a complex excavation that somehow equates human experience with geological time, as if the spectral figures were layers of sediment from civilizations past.
Although at first Leslie Shows’ work might read as abstract compositions, a close inspection reveals her expanded approach to painting and the deeper connections she has forged between her practice and the realms of geology, the passing of time and the imaginary. Her works are usually large in scale and materially rich, deftly combining a lush and diverse arsenal including sand, paint, metal, fabrics, plexiglass, ink, and collage among others. Whether hung sideways in diamond-like shapes, or laden with folds, fragments and textures that stretch and drip, her work is rarely confined within the limits of a frame. A key aspect of Shows’ practice is an interest in the various ways in which we relate to the natural world. She has taken inspiration from the mineral pyrite, or iron pyrite, also known as fool's gold; from water formations from the faces of rocks; and even from calcified mining ruins that the artist remembers from her childhood spent in Juneau, Alaska. Whether suggesting forms from nature like beehives, or emulating the textures of crystals and marble or the shapes of minerals, each piece connects us to a place, a landscape, real or imagined.