Lesley Thiel is from the United Kingdom and grew up just outside London. She was the child of a single, divorced, working mother, at a time when such things were not well accepted by society. Her early childhood was marred by poverty and social isolation, but Lesley found great joy in her deep connection to nature. When her mother remarried, Lesley moved to the United States with her new father and her mother, where she experienced the great changes and turmoil that society was undergoing. It gave her her first real exposure to racial injustice, and how society does not treat all equally, or fairly. As she became an adult, Lesley became deeply aware of the inequalities around her, and the fact that women were rarely respected for their abilities and talents.

“I spent a lot of my childhood and youth in my own little world, watching the natural world around me.”

When Lesley was a young child, there were no creative outlets at home. Though her mother’s love of education meant that there were some beautiful books with paintings to look at, being a latch key child meant that there was little opportunity to paint and draw, except at school. When they moved to the United States, Lesley was given the opportunity to paint and draw at home, and spent many hours recording plants and animals around her. She took Art as one of her advanced subjects at High School, hoping to study this at university. Her art teacher was a huge proponent of abstract expressionism; however, actively discouraged her from applying for art school. So, Lesley studied sciences, gained a PhD and entered medical research.

Lesley had never been able to shake the feeling there was something she was meant to be doing but wasn’t. It felt as if she were grieving for something loved and lost. When she started painting and drawing, in 2003, she realized that this was the piece that had been missing for her for many years. Inspired by her Arabian horse, she focused on painting horses, and found gallery representation within two years. Her work developed and was shown at the Mall Galleries, and as part of the 2012 Paralympic Games celebrations at Terminal 5 Heathrow. Lesley had developed her own style organically, but came to realize that she needed to further her artistic education if she was to translate her ideas into meaningful paintings. She began consuming books and information from blogs by well-known artists she admired, and spent several years practicing and honing her technique. It enabled her to create new work focused on climate change and the future of our children, especially the young girls who will be our future leaders. These paintings have been shown at the Museum of Modern European Art in Barcelona, Wassau Museum, Zhou B Art Center, and gained her representation by RJD Gallery in New York. Her work is in the Art Renewal Center and in the Bennett Collections.

“Art is the universal language of our shared humanity.”

Lesley gives us a piece of existence, of hope, of dreams, of desires – all encapsulated in her art work.  Intrinsically stating the obvious that is commonly mistaken for acceptance and normality.  Her art has the power to devour you with an insatiable hunger, with a need to recognize the purest form of human existence, the call for truth, for innocence, to revert to that state of mind where all was fine, all was good, all was perfect…because you knew no better.  But it’s a better that can be achieved with a collective attitude of care, of hope, and of love.  Lesley’s art works penetrate your subconscious knowingness, distracting your current reality, throwing you back to what you and I want.  To bring out the child within, with no restrictions or inhibitions, with no ill intentions, with the purity only a child can contain. 

Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?

 A. It’s not difficult to pick up a paintbrush and start painting. To become good at it, however, means years of practice and often of frustration. You are always learning, always trying to improve. Artists are often sensitive introverts, and yet we put our innermost thoughts and emotions on canvas for all to see. We must accept rejection and continually strive to get our work seen. It is not something for the faint hearted, and you do it because you are driven. Because life would be meaningless if you didn’t create.

Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it? 

A. I am driven to paint because it allows me to lovingly explore the things I see and which fill me with inspiration.  I strive to make my work an accurate representation of my subjects, as I see them, so that people forget they are paintings and just become involved in the story I’m telling. I love realism in its many forms, and spend a lot of time looking at and admiring the work of other artists.

Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular? 

A. I have spent many, many hours at museums, studying the techniques of the old masters. I love the paintings of Caravaggio for their virtuosity and drama, but have also been drawn to the pre-Raphaelites for their strong bond with nature. There has been a resurgence in interest in realism, since the turn of the century, and there are some truly great artists out there. Roberto Ferri’s work is masterful, and I am inspired by the work of Margaret Bowland and Adam Miller.

Q. What does your art aim to express? 

A. I have been concerned, for many years, about the destruction we are wreaking on the earth. I feel that our modern culture has isolated us from the reality that we are part of this planet, and totally dependent upon it for our survival. For the past two years, I have focused exclusively on creating paintings that speak of this relationship, and my fears for the survival of both our young people and nature as a whole. Thus, my paintings feature young girls, the budding mothers of the earth, usually in environments destroyed by fire, or threatened by rising oceans. I want to remind people of both the beauty that we will lose, and the unfairness involved in destroying the future of our youth.

Q. What role does the artist have in society?

A. Art is an expression of our shared humanity and is a truly universal form of communication.

Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?

A. I don’t think painting is lonely, even though so much time is spent alone. The loneliness can come when one is struggling to find a path and to express ideas, or when one feels blocked. An artist is responsible for so much in their career. Not just creating work, but making sure it is seen. That can also be quite a lonely path because there is so much to do. I have found having close friends who are artists to be incredibly important. We can talk about life and art. We all understand the hard path we are on.

Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing? 

A. I love spending time with my husband. We go on hikes in the mountains, visit art galleries together, or just chill and chat. I am a voracious consumer of news, so I spend quite a lot of time reading articles.

Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?

A. Paint what you love and what you believe in. If you don’t feel passion for what you are painting then it will show in your work. That 10% of passion in a piece is what makes it special and allows it to connect to other people. You can’t paint to please others. You have to paint your own soul.

Q. What does 'success' mean to you? 

A. Success for me means being able to keep painting and to create new work. To see my work grow and develop and have a meaningful body of work that connects with other people.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who? 

A. I was told to paint what I believed in and not to paint to please others. That was by a gallery owner called Alan Kluckow, who spent many hours talking to me about art and the art world.

Q. What advice would you give to the next generation? 

A. It is not a path for the faint hearted. You have to be absolutely committed to your vision and the need to create art, because you will have to weather the disappointments and the hurts and keep your faith throughout. Don’t follow trends because they disappear as fast as they come. And work at your craft, because talent is nothing more than the desire to be good at what you do, when it comes to art.

Q. What’s something about yourself or your life that might surprise others to learn?

A. I trained as a scientist. I have no formal artistic education.