CHAI STYLE: Temme Barkin-Leeds Creates Art with a Conscience
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CHAI STYLE: Temme Barkin-Leeds Creates Art with a Conscience

The artist and art consultant’s Buckhead home showcases her own work alongside evidence of a lifetime of collecting.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

  • Temme Barkin-Leeds examines the self-portraits she created when she turned 80. On the right is her acrylic on canvas, “Art Forms in Nature”  //  Photo Credit: Howard Mendel Photography
    Temme Barkin-Leeds examines the self-portraits she created when she turned 80. On the right is her acrylic on canvas, “Art Forms in Nature” // Photo Credit: Howard Mendel Photography
  • This large depiction of a carnival night was done in glitter and gesso by New York artist Josette Urso.
    This large depiction of a carnival night was done in glitter and gesso by New York artist Josette Urso.
  • Steve’s office houses mementos of his career in the General Services Administration under President Obama.
    Steve’s office houses mementos of his career in the General Services Administration under President Obama.
  • Barkin-Leeds’s painting, “SYR #5,” is an abstraction of an image of a site in Syria destroyed by a drone, (acrylic on canvas, 2021). She strove to achieve an electrifying green shade.
    Barkin-Leeds’s painting, “SYR #5,” is an abstraction of an image of a site in Syria destroyed by a drone, (acrylic on canvas, 2021). She strove to achieve an electrifying green shade.
  • Barkin-Leeds displays a wide range of talent, including this pottery and ceramics. Several of her clay pieces are on display now at the Chastain Arts Center.
    Barkin-Leeds displays a wide range of talent, including this pottery and ceramics. Several of her clay pieces are on display now at the Chastain Arts Center.
  • In the foyer, visitors are greeted by this gold painting by local artist EK Huckabee, known for creating unique mediums. The black sculpture is a clay piece with etched surface made by Native American artist Barbara Gonzalez (Than Moo Whe Sunbeam).
    In the foyer, visitors are greeted by this gold painting by local artist EK Huckabee, known for creating unique mediums. The black sculpture is a clay piece with etched surface made by Native American artist Barbara Gonzalez (Than Moo Whe Sunbeam).
  • Temme and Steve sought out a home that had a large enough vertical space to showcase this aerial view of landmasses by artist Gregor Turk. Their daughter is excited about inheriting it when they move.
    Temme and Steve sought out a home that had a large enough vertical space to showcase this aerial view of landmasses by artist Gregor Turk. Their daughter is excited about inheriting it when they move.
  • Art enthusiasts Stephen Leeds and Temme Barkin-Leeds surround themselves with decades of collecting and creating. Anniversary gifts often consist of art. Left: James Rosenquist, “I C U R A TV STAR,” (color lithograph on paper, 1991)
    Art enthusiasts Stephen Leeds and Temme Barkin-Leeds surround themselves with decades of collecting and creating. Anniversary gifts often consist of art. Left: James Rosenquist, “I C U R A TV STAR,” (color lithograph on paper, 1991)
  • Temme’s work in the guest powder room is a striking example of the way she contrasts a controversial topic like violent video games with a lighthearted Hello Kitty (acrylic and oil on Gessoboard.)
    Temme’s work in the guest powder room is a striking example of the way she contrasts a controversial topic like violent video games with a lighthearted Hello Kitty (acrylic and oil on Gessoboard.)

Temme Barkin-Leeds often quotes Georgia-born artist and activist Benny Andrews: “If you are going to make art, have something to say.”

Indeed, when it comes to talking about social issues — from violence in video games to Ukraine, art forms in nature, Syria and a myriad of other contemporary topics — the artist and art consultant is far from shy. In an unconventional way, some of her work places commercial images such as Hello Kitty or the Pillsbury Doughboy into paintings that contrast digital and physical realities.

Art enthusiasts Stephen Leeds and Temme Barkin-Leeds surround themselves with decades of collecting and creating. Anniversary gifts often consist of art. Left: James Rosenquist, “I C U R A TV STAR,” (color lithograph on paper, 1991)

In their Buckhead home, Barkin-Leeds and husband Stephen are surrounded by her compositions and art that she’s collected over decades of travel. “Our anniversaries usually involved purchasing a work of art,” she says. “Most of our art supports Southern artists, but we also have a few pieces by those of national repute. My main studio is in a house we built 29 years ago in the mountains of North Georgia. We spend at least half of every month there, and, during COVID, were up there almost exclusively.”

Follow along to find out how Barkin-Leeds expresses what is most personal to her.

Jaffe: As a native Atlantan, how did you get into a career in fine art?
Barkin-Leeds: Some of my first memories of art as a child were playing with crayons and making objects in clay: ashtrays or a figure of an elephant. Drawing has always been a way to escape and allow me to focus on something outside my reality. One of the most expansive experiences in my art-making was in grad school. Though intimidated by it, I introduced technology, specifically software that allowed me to make animation. While I did not follow that path after my initial work there, I found that it freed me to learn, use unconventional materials and methods and allowed me to make more experimental work.

Barkin-Leeds’s painting, “SYR #5,” is an abstraction of an image of a site in Syria destroyed by a drone, (acrylic on canvas, 2021). She strove to achieve an electrifying green shade.

Jaffe: How do you decide which societal issues to tackle in your work?
Barkin-Leeds: My work is driven by social consciousness, but there are times that it is also extremely personal, like the selfie drawings I made when I turned 80. The media I choose is based on the needs of the project and the message it purports to convey. For example, when I was dealing with the refugee crises, I used backgrounds found in violent video games as a backdrop for photoshopped images of seated refugees as they could have been found in places like Turkey or the U.S. My work in ceramics often relates to the two-dimensional work — recent “mask-like” abstract constructions refer back to my “Selfies at 80” drawings.

Jaffe: How do you set the stage for your creativity?
Barkin-Leeds: My work first takes form in my mind and can take different times to complete. The more complicated ones take several months. That said, I can feel as if a drawing is complete if it was meant to be a sketch, and it may have only taken an afternoon. Pricing is always a challenge, but I usually price work based on what my work has sold for previously and increase pricing in increments as time goes on. My work, in my mind, is still considered affordable. That said, what one pays is determined by how much the work speaks to you and if it is more than decoration, [something] that you want to live with and appreciate over time. I have had representation at the Lee Matney Gallery in Virginia, but sell my work directly to clients now.

Steve’s office houses mementos of his career in the General Services Administration under President Obama.

Jaffe: How would you describe your homes?
Barkin-Leeds: Our house in Rabun County is more inviting, especially in its color scheme (warm colors, soft edges, organic), whereas our collection in Atlanta is more eclectic and somewhat more dramatic. The large piece ascending the stairs is very eccentric, if not scary. It’s a collage depiction of a carnival night in glitter and gesso by New York artist Josette Urso. We have some Jewish-themed art that goes back to the 1960s. When I was an art consultant (21 years in business), I tended to purchase art by artists we placed in collections or featured in changing exhibitions which I curated. I have never had a favorite artist; being trained as an art historian (MA, Art History) as well as a practicing artist (MFA, Studio Art). I find there are many artists I respect and some who awe me — Durer, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Picasso. Acquiring something by Anselm Kiefer would be on our wish list.

Jaffe: Steve, your office boasts a lifetime of experiences.
Steve: We moved to D.C. for three years in 2009, where I served as Senior Counselor for the General Services Administration under Obama. GSA is the purchasing arm for U.S. goods and services. So here you see sentiments from those times. I treasure the photos of my dear friend, the late Senator Max Cleland. The red, white and blue American flag sculpture by Ab the Flagman (Roger Lee Ivens), an Atlanta based outsider artist, is a light and patriotic touch.

Temme’s work in the guest powder room is a striking example of the way she contrasts a controversial topic like violent video games with a lighthearted Hello Kitty (acrylic and oil on Gessoboard.)

Jaffe: Steve said that you have the ability to see things in different ways and particularly admires your use of color.
Barkin-Leeds: Color-wise, an example is my “SYR#5” abstraction of an image of a site in Syria destroyed by a drone, where I mixed bright yellows and greens to get an electric effect. In terms of seeing things differently, I captured a photograph of my mother on my iPhone, which had the illusion of holding her in my hands. Part of that was used in my painting with shapes culled from Ernst Haeckel’s book “Art Forms in Nature.” Thus, my mother was memorialized as she became another art form in Nature herself.

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