Throughout her life, Barbi Leifert’s penchant for the art of dance has taken many forms. “I always really liked dance. I just felt I had it in my soul,” she says. “I was born with it, and I love it. And when something feels that good, you pursue it.”
Raised in Brooklyn, in a family of dancers, Leifert’s foray with the art form began in a traditional sense as she entered into dance school at age 3 and learned the classics: tap, ballet and jazz. Following her passion, she danced for Monmouth University, Cal State Long Beach and eventually Skidmore College. “We did all types of dance. Those days, it was six hours a day of dancing,” she says. “When you’re 18, 19, 20 years old, you can just do that.”
Upon graduation from school, Leifert danced with an “avant garde company in downtown Soho when nothing was there except artists and lofts.” At the time, she was also nourishing a budding career in communications and business, which eventually led her to move to Seattle. That was about 20 years ago, but she never lost the urge to dance. She still does so at the local studio Spectrum Dance Theater.
But, all the while, another form of artistic expression was repeatedly welling up inside her: painting. “When I was growing up, at the same time I was dancing, I found I liked drawing and painting. My uncle, who was a printer, would come over to the house and bring reams of paper, and I thought that was just so fantastic,” Leifert says. “And I always leaned toward the arts in school, and I studied painting at the Brooklyn Museum on Saturdays when I wasn’t dancing.”
But it wasn’t until about four years after moving to Seattle that Leifert began to paint seriously. She attended Gage Academy for some formal training, and then began crafting her style. “The first thing I did was master copies of Picasso and Matisse. Then I started to do a kind of different take on Picasso. They were abstract landscapes, and I did one and brought it to a gallery in Kirkland,” she says. “I walked into Phillips Gallery, and I showed this beautiful women, Sherry Barnes, my painting. She said, ‘That’s interesting; can you do more like that?’ Two months later I had five more paintings, and she had them up in the gallery.”
Not too long after, Leifert was inspired to blend the two art forms. Giving up the abstract landscapes, she began using dancers’ forms in her paintings. “I love the lines of dancers’ bodies. The musculature, the strength and the movement it creates. It’s all so beautiful. And it’s something I know intimately from all my years performing those postures.”
Leifert has now shown her art across the country, including galleries and expos as far away as Florida and New York. She also has shown her work at various West Coast locations in Seattle and California. Among other endeavors, this fall she has a show opening on September 24 at the Lanyon 36 Gallery in New York. The show features her latest series, titled “Dancer’s Palette,” which bespeaks of her ongoing connection to dance.
The show encompasses 10 new works, all of which are done in a similar style meant “not to show dancers on a stage but to show different moments in dance.” The paintings, many of which are large in scale, highlight dancer figures in vibrant colors and interesting shapes. She describes them as “abstract figurative.”
“The most important thing for me is that people want to live with the paintings because they vibrate a certain energy. I want people to get energy when they see them, get a jolt and be lifted up by having the painting in their home,” Leifert says.
Primarily inspired by the jazz musicians and dancers on Broadway and the great dancers of the New York and Seattle ballets, Leifert paints all her works in a small, renovated studio overlooking Lake Union behind her home in Capitol Hill. There, she hangs many different paintings, all in various stages of completion, and tediously applies layer after layer of color and texture. Due to the style and size of her paintings, Leifert says she relies heavily on her ability to still be physical.
“I have to be physically fit to paint; it requires a great deal of stamina,” she says. “That’s why I do yoga at the Club, to keep myself in shape. Yoga works for me because it’s kind of like dance.”
Leifert’s goals as an artist are to eventually go international with her work.
“I’m really starting to get the idea of what I’m doing and all that I want to accomplish,” Leifert says. “And I’m prepared to work very hard.”
To learn more about the artist, visit barbileifert.com