PHOTOS: Cambridge Anthropologie Hosts Live Art Exhibition with Gwyneth Leech
Unlike many of us, Gwyneth Leech does not throw away a paper cup after finishing her daily dose of hot coffee or tea that was served in it. Instead, the artist keeps it and later uses it as a surface for her drawings, each one capturing a social moment, whether it’s an interaction with a friend or simply an encounter with a barista at a coffee shop.
In 2009 when Leech was working a part-time job, her workplace switched from styrofoam to paper cups. That’s when she discovered that she immensely enjoyed drawing on their curved surfaces. Since then, Leech approximates that she has produced around 1,000 of these works.
“At first I thought I was procrastinating—sitting in my studio every day for hours drawing on cups, while the paintings were getting dusty on the wall. But then I realized it’s my art form,” says Leech. “Shakespeare had sonnets, Bach had fugues, and I have used paper coffee cups.”
The project has prompted several live art exhibitions, including one in a storefront in New York City’s Garment District (where Leech has her studio), one in the Flatiron Building, and now, in the windows of Anthropologie’s Harvard Square location at 44 Brattle Street in Cambridge. Leech was approached by the brand’s chief merchandising officer through a chance meeting during an alumni weekend at her old high school in Philadelphia. Shortly afterward, Anthropologie agreed on a collaboration with the artist, transforming eight of her designs into porcelain versions.
After launching the collection with a live art exhibit in the windows of Anthropologie’s Regent Street location in London in September, Leech has now set up shop in Cambridge for three days. Yesterday, on the first day of the exhibit—which includes a display of 365 cups—the artist says she was pleased with the “receptive audience,” including Harvard professors who have provided her with “educated commentary and questions.”
Leech and Anthropologie are now in discussion for further collaboration, with the possibility of three more cup collections that could come out in 2014 and 2015. But for now, the artist plans to continue with the project as is, while also experimenting with reconfiguring them into different forms such as traditional paintings and sculpture.
“The cups are a great form for me because I have so many ideas. I can get them out really fast [on the cups], and they feel really concrete. For me, they have more existence than the images in my sketchbooks. I’ve always had trouble getting images out of a sketchbook—this is my sketchbook now,” she says. “I also like the idea that each one of these images could be the start of another idea—infinite variation.”
Additionally, Leech hopes that the project will disseminate the idea of upcycling.
“The artifacts of the everyday are not just throwaways, but represent actual moments in time and can be turned into symbolic artworks,” she says. “I like the idea that art can be made anywhere, on anything. You can keep going and generating images and ideas and projects. It’s art of the everyday in every place.”
Through negotiations between Leech and Anthropologie, hundreds of the artist’s cup designs were narrowed down to eight that would be transformed into porcelain versions and sold at the stores during the holiday season.
“I’m interested in where ideas come from,” says Leech. “That’s something that really engages me as an artist—thinking about that moment when a new gesture, a new idea, a new form starts to take place. For me, it’s been on a coffee cup for a few years.”
Leech primarily uses Faber-Castell brush pens for her cup designs, but occasionally experiments with white ink, watercolors, and oil paints.
Each cup is inscribed on the bottom with Leech’s signature, the date, location, beverage consumed, and the social encounter that it documents.
Leech adjusts the display of hanging cups at her exhibit in Cambridge.
The Anthropologie exhibit displays 365 cups. “You can see what a cup a day looks like,” says Leech. “If you think about that over time, it’s what each of us is personally contributing to the trash flow.”
Yesterday, on the first day of Leech’s Anthropologie exhibit in Cambridge, the artist was joined by the children of an Anthropologie customer, as well as former classmates from her high school, while passersby occasionally looked in from the outside.