2011 First Class Hons Degree, Fine Art; Norwich University of the Arts
1991 HND, Illustration; Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design

2012 Contemporary Drawing; Nicholson Gallery, Holt
2012 Contemporary Drawing; Norwich Playhouse
2012 Kirsty O’Leary-Leeson; The Assembly House, Norwich
2021  Somewhere Unexpected, Norwich Castle
2020  Vitalistic Fantasies, Cello Factory, London
2019  Hempstead Arts 19, Norfolk
2019  Contemporary British Artists, Norwich Cathedral
2019 The Institute of East Anglian Artists, Holt
2018  New Painting, The Crypt, Marylebone, London
2018  Connections, Wells Maltings, Wells
2018  Hempstead Arts 18, Norfolk
2016  Contemporary British Painting, Summer Exhibition; Quay Arts, Isle of Wight
2016  NCAS16, The Forum, Norwich
2016  34 x 34, The Crypt, Marylebone Church, London
2015  Unease, Halesworth Gallery, Suffolk
2015 Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize, Mall Galleries, London
2014 Heirs to Turner, Swindon Museum and Gallery
2014 Places and Landscapes, Waterfront Gallery, Ipswich
2014 21st Century British Painting, Huddersfield Art Gallery
2014 @paint Britain, Ipswich Art School Gallery
2014 NCAS 14, The Forum, Norwich
2013 Royal Society of Marine Artists; Mall Galleries, London
2013 Art Links, The Maltings, Stanstead Abbott
2013 Natural Selection; Espacio Gallery, London
2013 Inaugural Exhibition; Red Light Gallery, Norwich
2013 After The Monet; The Coningsby Gallery, London*
2013 State of the Art; Hobart Gallery, Blickling Hall*
2013 Elements; QUAD, Derby
2012 Norfolk Contemporary Arts 12; Forum, Norwich
2012 Artworks Open 12; Cambridge Artworks, Cambridge
2012 Savorr vii; Norwich
2012 Art and The Coast in association with Sainsbury Centre For the Visual Arts,
2012 Show Me The Monet; The Mall Galleries, London
2012 Fields of Vision; Orleans Gallery, Twickenham
2011 Brinkmanship; Rocket House, Cromer
2011 Facing Hard Times; Greyfriars Art space, Kings Lynn
2011 Elements: Material Worlds; The Forum, Norwich
2010 Emergence; Unit 5, Norwich*
2010 Panamama; Stew Gallery, Norwich
2010 Print and New Media; Nicholson Gallery, Holt2009 Impulse Response; NUCA Gallery
* organised and curated

East Contemporary Art: University Campus Suffolk
21ST Century British Art: Swindon Art Gallery
British Art: Madison Museum of Fine Art, USA
21St Century British Painting: Priseman-Seabrook Collection
Yantai Art Museum, China
Jiangsu Museum, Nanjing, China

Appearance on BBC 2's Show Me The Monet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc8LCC9vHx0&feature=plcp
Artist Blog: http://kirstyolearyleeson.tumblr.com/
Film: Vessel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWMsUihFG00
Artist Facebook pages; http://www.facebook.com/artistkirstyolearyleeson  https://www.facebook.com/drawntogetherworkshops
Priseman-Seabrook Collection: http://www.robert-priseman.com/museum-collections/priseman-seabrook-collection-21st-century-british-painting/

2013 Juried Select Winner (drawing category) Artslant
2012 Show Me The Monet, BBC2 Art competition
2011 Finalist in Saatchi Drawing Showdown
2011 Commendation, Facing Hard Times, Greyfriars Art Space
2009 Shortlisted for John Riches Drawing Award, NUA


Artist Statement

Landscape is a portrait of the soul”

I explore the spaces we exist in, both physical and psychological. I use the landscape which surrounds me as a metaphor for my inner life of imagination and emotion. The material and immaterial are not separate but are reliant on each other to create meaning in our lived reality.

Drawing dominates my practice at present as the media most compliments and mirrors my subject matter, which is expressing facets of our existence. In drawing there is a relation with the provisional and unfinished, it exists in a state of suspense so connecting it with the lived life experience.

Drawing records the unfolding of an event, not the fixed reality of an object. It is a dialogue between our thoughts and our experience of the real; drawing has always been aligned with thinking and ideas, it has as much to do with reflection as with observation.
I draw what I know and experience not just what I see. These are not drawings from life, but drawings of life; drawing the relation between the visible and the invisible.

The fragmentary nature of the images reflects that although we live a linear existence, what we currently experience is altered by memories and expectations, our present being created by these absent moments. The sharp contrasts also convey emotion and induce contemplation in the viewer; they suggest a theme of constant change as the eye moves through the transitioning spaces of constructed and negative spaces.


Originally I trained as an illustrator and worked in publishing, however in 2009 after having spent some time raising more children than is really sensible I decided to escape from the Playground Mafia and I returned to Art college to study Fine Art. I graduated with a First Class degree in 2011 from Norwich University of the Arts. Since then I have exhibited widely in my home county of Norfolk as well as London and across the UK. I have been a finalist in the International Saatchi Drawing Showdown, featured in series 2 of the BBC 2 Programme 'Show Me the Monet' and was Visual Art Trader’s Artist of the Month, they wrote of my work:  "The senses of emotional uncertainty, of time evaporating and of forgotten memories in Kirsty's drawings are made all the more powerful by the beautiful and precise execution of the images." 

I have work in private collections in London, New York, the UK and the Middle East.
My work has been acquired for public collections including the Madison Museum of Fine Art, USA,  Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, Priseman Seabrooke Collection (for further details see below) and the ECA collection University Campus Suffolk.

In choice of medium, Kirsty O’Leary- Leeson changed the history of drawing. Her masterful pencil drawings scratched into gesso record the unfolding of an event with visible and invisible elements in nature such as extreme light and variation of focus. The purity of her work derives from her virtuoso draftsmanship and media. Contrary to master draftsmanship practice since antiquity, the artist rejects paper because, in the artist’s words, “… the textured surface becomes part of the drawing.”  To focus the viewer solely on the image, Kirsty sprays a wooden board with gesso and polishes the surface until smooth. Using a hard #14 pencil, she builds her images with tiny marks embedded in the gesso. 
Madison Museum of Fine Art

"O’Leary Leeson's intricate and mesmerising drawings show an incredible skill in draftsmanship. Even the white of the page is encompassed into her compositions with her proficient drawing technique."

Victoria Heald - Rise Art Curator

The Medium I choose to work in

People often look at my work not sure what media it is, is it some kind of photo or a print? They comment that they have never seen anything like it before.

My artworks are all hand drawn with a pencil, however I do not work on paper; this is because the textured surface of paper always becomes an integral part of a drawing, however my work is purely about the image, I do not want the substrate to interfere with it, it exists free from it's substrate.  I have wooden boards sprayed with gesso and lightly sanded down to give a very smooth surface onto which I draw directly. I use a very hard 4h pencil, because the surface is hard anything softer creates too much loose graphite.  The images are built up with very small marks, I do not 'shade' but embed each stroke within the gesso. Gesso is an unforgiving medium to work on, unless the mark is very light you cannot rub it out, so I have to work carefully and meticulously.
Finally I have the boards sprayed with a protective acrylic lacquer which effectively makes the work wipe clean.

The art critic David Lee said of my work "It's not often you find work that wants to draw you in".  I think part of this is because of the purity of the image achieved through my chosen media.

I spoke to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 about the use of the sea in my drawings 


Dissertation: Mother Dearest
An examination of the representation of Motherhood in contemporary art, from the perspective of the artist as mother 

mother_dearest_dissertation3_with_numbers.pdf mother_dearest_dissertation3_with_numbers.pdf
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Below is a link for the proposal for the installation 'Daydreaming A Life Facing Worldly Things' 

Proposal for Daydreaming a Life.odt Proposal for Daydreaming a Life.odt
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Below is a link for  a description of my experience of being on Show Me The Monet 

Show Me The Monet.odt Show Me The Monet.odt
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The Priseman Seabrook Collection
The collections are formed into three categories – 21st Century British Painting,​ ​20th and 21st Century British Works on Paper and Contemporary Chinese Works on Paper. The focus of each collection is on painting and drawing made by hand. Each collection seeks to explore, promote and question the relevance of painting and the hand-made work of art in the digital age through loans, exhibitions, talks and publications. They have grown through direct working and personal relationships with many of the artists represented and been enabled by painting swaps, donations and occasional purchases. We especially welcome loan requests from schools, not-for-profit galleries and council run art museums.

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