Local painter weathers stormy economic decline

By Leo Buckle

Alicia Leeke is “living the American dream,” or at least her version of it.

She spends her days painting landscapes and quaint street scenes, using a variety of vibrant colors and brush strokes.

Leeke’s dream was fulfilled in November 2008, when she began working full time as an acrylic painter.

A year later, the recession began, and Leeke has had to face the challenges of a weakened economy ever since. People aren’t buying as much, or they’re limiting how much they spend, Leeke said.

Bohumila Augustinova, shop manager at the Columbia Museum of Art, has noticed a similar trend. “Smaller pieces sell more now than large expensive pieces,” she said.

Although Leeke’s wholesale business has also declined, overall, the recession hasn’t hurt her too badly. “I’m doing pretty well in a bad economy,” said Leeke, a graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Despite Leeke’s success, Augustinova said it is not easy for local artists to live off their work. “I would not want to do it,” she said. “You’re constantly on the road.”

Leeke travels to shows around the country, occasionally going as far as Chicago and New York. Four times a year she goes to Atlanta to sell her work.

Leeke is kept busy at home, as well. “I don’t have a set schedule, but I do need to have enough paintings for a body of work, about 50 pieces, for shows,” she said.

To create those pieces, Leeke draws inspiration from around the city. “I like to take the mundane, less interesting settings of the different parts of Columbia and make them more vibrant,” she said.

She also said she was inspired by a visit to Montmarte, France. She has visited that country many times, beginning with her first visit during her sophomore year of college. While in France she fell in love with impressionism.

From this love, she developed a post-impressionistic style and began painting in earnest in 2005. Little by little she worked toward escaping the corporate world, until in 2008 she was able to quit her job and dedicate herself completely to artistic expression.

Not every artist is so lucky, however, and only three of the local artists whose work is displayed at the Columbia Museum of Art are able to create full time.

Unlike Leeke, those who rely on state funding to support their artistic endeavors are feeling the pinch of the recession even more.

Milly Hough, communications director at the South Carolina Arts Commission, said state funding for her program has been reduced. Most of the money received by the Commission goes to arts organizations instead of individual artists, although there is some support for individuals.

“That’s how we make the most bang for our buck, through local arts organizations,” Hough said. Arts organizations hire artists to do classes, pay musicians for concerts, and support the arts in many ways, she said. “They can reach a great number of people.”

Though the Columbia Museum of Art receives funding from the Arts Commission, Augustinova said, “the museum is more affected by what kinds of exhibits we have."

Leeke’s work is exhibited in the museum shop and in galleries throughout South Carolina.

You may contact Leeke about her paintings by calling 803-429-5456 or via email at info@alicialeeke.com. RCT

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