There is a timeless quality to the paintings created by Malcolm T. Liepke. His imagery transplants viewers to a bygone era of late night haunts, couples lingering in smoky rooms and intimate private moments. While timeless, the imagery still manages to retain a distinct, contemporary flair. The sublime beauty of his subjects, often women lost in contemplation, are imbued with a sense of melancholy. The brushwork; thick, lush and bold make the canvas “breathe” with an intensity not often found in today’s more “antiseptic” art world. “I look at my own world and paint it,” says Liepke, “but I also want my paintings to be ultimately timeless. I’m a channel to express the human condition.”
Liepke’s fascination with the art world began at a young age. During his senior year of high school, he realized that being an artist was the “only thing I was cut out to be.” So he packed his bags and moved from his native Minnesota and moved to California where he enrolled in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He soon became frustrated, however, with the curriculum that emphasized abstraction and conceptual art. After a year and a half, he dropped out. “They weren’t going in the direction that I wanted to go,” he explained. “They were promoting superficial and trendy techniques. I wanted to learn from the masters that I saw in the museums.”
Liepke, who was and continues to be drawn to the work of the 19th-century masters, did just that. He headed east to New York’s finest museums where he studied the work of Sargent, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Vuillard, absorbing technique and discipline while developing a unique vision all his own.
From the beginning, Liepke was drawn to the figure. “It’s not really like anything else,” he explains. “In landscapes, there can certainly be a great deal of emotion, but it is a different kind and not as strong to me as looking at the figure. There is a timeless quality to figurative painting that I really enjoy. If I look at a Rembrandt, while the clothing is certainly different, the people remain the same. They have not changed in hundreds of years. The emotional contact you get from looking at someone’s face is what inspires my work.”
In the early part of his career, Liepke began working in the world of illustration and by the early 1980’s, he had earned an award-winning reputation as an illustrator with works appearing in magazine like Time and Forbes. Over time, Liepke grew tired of the lack of control in terms of subject matter, and by the mid-80’s decided to strike out on his own and become a full-time artist.
Liepke’s commitment to traditional figurative painting coincided with the resurgence of figurative painting in general. “I came at a pretty good time. It wasn’t as difficult to find success painting figures in a realist style during the 80’s as it would have been in the 50’s or 60’s. Artists like Lucien Freud helped carve some paths, which helped me enormously,” he says.
Not that Liepke really needed any assistance anyway. From his very first exhibition in 1986, all of the works in his shows have sold out. From Hong Kong to Los Angeles and London to New York, Malcolm Liepke’s works are much sought after and his audience continues to grow by leaps and bounds.