A look inside Washington Ledesma’s studio gallery

Washington Ledesma -Photo by Valerie Sonnenthal

I stopped by well-known ceramic artist and painter Washington Ledesma’s studio just over the Oak Bluffs line on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road to see what he’s up to this summer. Mr. Ledesma is a storyteller, a wanderer, a colorful and vivid artist who began painting on glass last winter for the first time when his kilns were broken. He explored glass vessels of all shapes and sizes, and works on flat pieces of beveled glass. His imagery, unexpected magical world, and bright enamel colors always take me on a journey of wonder, myth, and light.

Mr. Ledesma received glass from friends who saved pieces for him; he found glass at our local thrift shops (and the Dumptique) and some off-Island, and for larger pieces he has a source on the Cape. He starts by covering the glass with paint before he adds imagery, but even that has changed. Mr. Ledesma is planning to do a whole series of paintings on glass inspired by Thomas Hart Benton, the well-known painter and summer Island resident. Mr. Ledesma used to start with a line drawing on his ceramics, finish the drawing, the details, and then add color. Painting on glass means he no longer begins with the line drawing and just paints, a freedom he relishes.

He continues to create small metal pieces that he paints brightly, including a pig, a rhinoceros, a chicken, and an apple sitting together on one of his pedestal displays. He goes on to a story about being included in an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum last year, where his fish painting hung beside three Rembrandts and remarks, laughing, “My head was all the time, I get a complex of inferiority. My $4,000 fish and Rembrandts.”

He says, “When I lived in New York I did a series of paintings certain people was interpreting like it was my expression about sex. And naturally what I was doing was my expression to follow the teaching of Picasso, and how to get into abstraction with something that is real. You start to make the lines thinner and thinner. You’re finally ending with an abstract line. When you reach that level after 12 steps or more, you have something that you didn’t know was there. So it is a discovery.” Clearly making discoveries in his paintings is something Mr. Ledesma has never stopped doing.

His studio is filled with work that needs to be fired, but that has not slowed him down. He has a series of ceramic vessels with poetry carved into the surface, including works by Gabriel Garcia Lorca, Island poet Fan Ogilvie, and others waiting to be finished on one work table. Everywhere you look there is work in progress in his studio area.

In the corner of the gallery area is a case with a 4-foot-high ceramic pregnant mother/goddess figure with three breasts, something that appears on many of Washington’s female figures. The figure is completely hand-built from the feet up. He says everyone wants to know about the lady with the three breasts: “In literature there are people like the German Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass, who wrote a book called The Flounder. On the first page he mentions Awa. Awa was a goddess with three breasts, and the whole book is about cooking.”

You can see Mr. Ledesma’s work by making an appointment to visit him at his home gallery in Oak Bluffs by calling 508-693-1823. His work is also on display at the Night Heron Gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, open daily from 10 am to 6 pm. washingtonledesma.com.