IN CONVERSATION: Stacy Leigh on "Escape to B-Roll"

by Emilie El Jaouhari

Stacy Leigh in her studio

Stacy Leigh in her studio, Image courtesy of the artist 


From 20 March to 19 April, WOAW Gallery Central will showcase Escape to B-Roll, solo exhibition by American artist Stacy Leigh, featuring a series of unplanned, freestyle paintings inspired by the artist’s fantasy of “selling her apartment and moving to a house somewhere with no neighbours.” 


Born in 1971 in New York, NY, Stacy Leigh was first discovered by American painter and photographer Richard Prince. She then held her first exhibition of photographs of inanimate love dolls in 2015 in New York, More Human Than Human. Encouraged to paint by Richard Prince, she held in 2017 an exhibition of her paintings, Nerves, at the Fortnight Institute in New York. Most recently, Stacy presented her solo presentation The Condition of Things at Harper’s Gallery in August 2022.


The title of the show, Escape to B-Roll, was born from Stacy’s love for documentary films.


The term B-roll originates from the early days of film, when editors inserted supplemental footage (B-roll) into the main footage (A-roll), to hide visible lines where two pieces of film were joined. In modern film and video production, B-roll describes all of the footage that isn't the main action.


As a student, I was drawn to the aesthetic of the b-roll footage used to illustrate the narration. In most documentaries, the b-roll footage is the neighbourhood and surrounding area central to the storyline such as houses, popular streets, and local hang outs. But because the b-roll footage has such an important role in the storytelling of a documentary, it enables the mundane of the b-roll footage to take on a greater meaning.

Currently, my life revolves so much around housing, and the problems that arise from living stacked on top of one another, that my desire to escape into the mundane would be a most pleasing departure. And much like a documentary, I too turned the b-roll into something more remarkable, explains Stacy Leigh.


 Stacy Leigh, Untitled, 2023 (Close Up)


For her debut in Hong Kong, the artist chose to depict a fantastical world after an unpleasant experience with her housing board: a “b-roll” of a life she wishes to escape into.


In a tentative to escape the busy, buzzing and bustling New York, Stacy is showcasing for the Hong Kong audience a special series of paintings that are reflecting suburban calm life dreams, littered with potted plants, tiny dogs, and cosy interiors, but without any people, despite seeing traces of them through daily objects and house lightings.


 Stacy Leigh, The life of a drone day 8, 2023 (Close Up)


The paintings for this show are different from my other works in that I omitted the human form. Leaving people out of the paintings gave me more freedom to use objects as surrogate human energy. The skies, the cars, even the houses themselves, all have their own energy about them. I used colour to drive the point, says Stacy.


 Stacy Leigh, The life of a drone day 18, 2023 (Close Up)


When asked if she is really dreaming about “moving to a house somewhere with no neighbours”, the native New Yorker is partially kidding. People living in Hong Kong, one of the world most densely populated city, will for sure understand her feeling and point of view.


I enjoy interacting with people. I have had the pleasure of living in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, so I have lived squished between other families my entire life. (…) It’s a concerted effort to live harmoniously in any city, let alone one as large as Manhattan or Hong Kong.


After all these years, odds are you will encounter some unpleasantries. Unfortunately, that is a situation I am currently experiencing in the boutique condominium I live in now. It is so sordid and ugly, it's one for the books. So yes, I would love to sell my loft apartment and move to a house somewhere with sprawl and likely no neighbours, observes Stacy.

Far from being desperate nor plaintive, Stacy Leigh instills her farcical sense of humour into hidden corners of her paintings, for instance doormats that read “If you’re reading this, take off your shoes”.


Stacy Leigh, Bad Bish, 2023 (Close Up)


I use humour to disarm, demystify and satirise. (…) For example, the growling dog in “Bad Bish”, wearing a pink collar in a pink bed, is cute and fluffy, but that dog is warning you to back up. Or the satirical nature of “House Full O’ Hoes” is that you can have kids and still be fun, light hearted and sexy.


I believe humour can help deliver a dose of reality that might otherwise sting or shock, but it also helps me to express myself in a visual way, she adds.



TOP: Stacy Leigh, Bad Bish, 2023 (Close Up)

BOTTOM: Stacy Leigh, House Full O' Hoes, 2023 (Close Up)


When asked how she would describe her artworks, Stacy, who has varied artistic inspirations from painters, filmmakers and photographers, spontaneously says Unique, Bold, Vibrant, Humorous and Special.


I am a huge fan of American artists John Currin, Robert Schaad, Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw and countless others. (…) But I find inspiration in filmmakers and photographers as well, like Stanley Kubrick, Darren Aronofsky, Gregory Crewdson, Helmut Newton and Steven Klein.

I like a nostalgic aesthetic, probably because I’m getting old! While I am inspired by many, I don’t feel close to any artists or movements. I tend to walk to the beat of my own drum, which has its ebbs and flows. Maybe that’s why my paintings are unique in their way. I believe I choose to stay on the periphery of any movement. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself!


Stacy has never visited Hong Kong, but she has seen enough photos to know it looks like a place that would stimulate her creative process. She felt connected with the density of the city, and that’s why she created her series of paintings as a metaphorical escape that can appeal to anyone, including the people living in Hong Kong.


It might seem silly, but when I visit a place, the architecture and ambient light matters to me. I take mental pictures for future inspiration and Hong Kong is a beautiful city! I know how much history there is in Hong Kong, so as beautiful as the city is, I would be more interested in learning about the history and visiting historical sites before I could chill and truly enjoy it.

As for choosing the general idea for my debut show in Asia, I feel it came easily to me because the subject matter for the works are relatable to anyone, especially those who live in densely populated areas, like me in NYC who wouldn’t mind a metaphorical escape to B-roll for a sunset romp on a lush green lawn, Stacy concluded.