For students at an institution that boasts the title “Liberal Arts College,” Swatties seem to most frequently pursue majors in the sciences, with biology, computer science, and political science topping the list of most popular majors. The art departments, including art history, studio art, music, and others, while perhaps less prominent than other departments, have graduated many successful artists, including animator and painter Meredith Leich ‘08.
Leich spent her time at Swarthmore focusing on different artistic mediums and art-related academic disciplines, including art history and music. Leich said she didn’t decide to pursue a career as an artist until after graduating from Swarthmore, which she attributes in part to her participation in different creative activities at the college. “Participating in the senior art studio class and playing in orchestra and chamber groups, as well as writing a comic for the Phoenix, were important experiences in guiding me toward a life centered on creativity and artistic craft,” Leich said.
Even though she did not major in studio art or film, Leich has been deeply interested in art since her childhood. She works mostly in painting and animation, both of which she say stem from her lifelong interest in drawing. She describes animation as a way to incorporate her other artistic interests, writing and music, into her paintings in order to convey more complex ideas. “[My art] is an attempt to describe aspects of the world around me that I find compelling or significant,” Leich said.
Through her studies in art history and music, Leich explored the ways that art changes over time and reacts to cultural contexts. “[These studies] demonstrated how art’s value and focus shifts from generation to generation, as it reflects the concerns and interests of our ever-evolving societies.” She said this phenomenon sparked a curiosity about different worldwide cultures and histories, which led to an overwhelming desire to travel and experience the rest of the world. “I doubt I would have had the courage to live in other countries and expose myself to so many other ways of living if Swarthmore hadn’t emphasized the necessity of understanding multiple perspectives,” Leich said.
In other ways, however, Leich said that Swarthmore somewhat hindered her ability to think creatively, because upon leaving the school, it took some time to change from an academic mindset — which she considers to be the dominant mode of thought at Swarthmore — to a more creative one. She describes her artistic process as being much more focused on intuition, emotion and sensation than on strictly intellectual thinking. “[The artistic process] requires an embrace of uncertainty and nonverbal methods of communication and expression that aren’t found as frequently, and are sometimes dismissed, in the academic environment,” Leich said.
Leich said that her art does not necessarily have a style, but rather takes inspiration from changing moods, images, and concepts. “I am continually interested in weather, cities, history, climate change and technology, and I find myself making work about or featuring those forces frequently,” Leich said.
While she does not stick to one consistent theme in her art, she said she feels that her work is informed by historical artistic movements and traditions, in particular representational painting and surrealism.
Leich said her work in video and painting differs slightly, since when working in video, she has to pay attention to time and fluidity, whereas in painting she only needs to focus on one instantaneous image. “When working in painting or video, I try to be sensitive to what the medium offers; am I trying to create a single visually impactful scene? Or do I want a narrative to unfold? Do I want to include sound or music?” Leich asks herself. She said some of her ideas work better as paintings, and others better as videos, so working with both allows for better execution of these concepts.
Since her graduation from Swarthmore, Leich has lived in cities across the United States and fulfilled her desire to travel the world. She has worked three different jobs in New York City at several different arts organization, lived in Jaffa, Israel on a Dorot Fellowship, attended the San Francisco Art Institute for a post-baccalaureate degree in painting and stayed in the city to teach art in various institutions and communities. She is currently studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for a MFA in Film, Video, New Media and Animation.
Leich’s work is currently on display in Swarthmore’s own List Gallery, along with the work of two other artists, including Eberhard Froelich ‘86. The exhibition features some of Leich’s watercolor paintings and animations, which draw inspiration from her time spent in San Francisco, a city she describes as “very beautiful, zeitgesty, with dystopic undertones.”
“[The animation, entitled Bedtime Story No. 2] uses the format of the childhood bedtime story to meditate on one of the unfinished narratives of our age — the looming potential of climate change.” These pieces will be on view in the List Gallery until December 13.