Thomas Leffers doesn’t just create art; he conjures feelings. Each work is a conversation, he says, between himself and his wooden canvas, the finished work and the person looking at it. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of carefully placed strokes create a juxtaposition of harmony and cacophony that elicits a primal reaction from each viewer. And it’s fine with him if each person sees something different.
“I love to see people’s reactions when they first see one of my works,” says Leffers. “Whatever I’ve titled it was just where my mind was when I created the piece. It’s just a starting point.”
Though painting is Leffers’s passion, his journey to abstract art developed slowly. He doodled and drew as a child, using crayons to capture his feelings on scraps of paper. Without realizing it, Leffers began using the activity to help release the tangle of anxious emotion that sometimes threatened to overwhelm him. Along the way, he got pretty good at it.
It wasn’t until he got to college that Leffers realized his art could serve as more than a vehicle for his emotion; he could also use it to express an idea. His journey came full circle his senior year at the University of Saint Francis, when one of his professors interrupted him in the middle of a painting that he had intended to be a realistic representation of traditional subject matter. “Tim Parsley told me, ‘Stop right here. This could be a finished piece.’ That really opened the door to abstract art for me,” recalls Leffers.
Now, when Leffers searches for subject matter, he finds simple moments that he can break into smaller pieces. He deconstructs color the same way, disassociating it from traditional emotions and challenging convention. For him, it’s a metaphor for life. “Your senses are always being bombarded,” he says. “I make so many marks because life is so hectic and crazy.”
His paintings reflect that, each one roiling with texture, color and movement. Because he paints on large wooden panels, Leffers incorporates his full range of motion into his work. Not a single stroke appears by happenstance. He places each mark carefully and then walks away to study it from a distance. Each stroke, he says, tells him where to put the next one. “I like seeing it as a conversation,” Leffers says simply.
Painting has given Leffers purpose. It has given him a voice to overcome shyness and process emotion. It has helped transform his outlook from negative to positive. It keeps him curious and hungry to learn what’s going on in the world. Most importantly, it keeps him feeling authentic.
That purpose has also given Leffers a sense of responsibility. He has set goals for himself that involve national and international recognition, but not just for his own satisfaction. Leffers wants to bring more exposure to the city and revitalize the community through art. “We make a lot of beautiful things,” he says. “Fort Wayne needs to be recognized for what we create here.”
Most of all, Leffers hopes that by pursuing his passion, he can be an example for others to do the same. “Everyone’s art is different. For some people it’s painting, for others it might be business. You’re going to put so much more of yourself into your passion,” says Leffers. “No matter how busy life is, make your art. It’s what makes you most happy.”
Though Leffers still holds a day job to pay his bills, he hopes someday that will change. Regardless, he intends to follow his own advice, “Even if I have to keep another job and can’t live off my art, I’m still going to do it.”