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Montecito’s Self-Taught “Renaissance Realism” Muralist

by Jim Buckley, The Montecito Journal
Paul Leasure has been in the Santa Barbara area since June, 2001, already his giant landscapes have been seen by thousands of its citizens. They may have caught a glimpse of a 6-foot by 8-foot garden mural (the central figure was a young woman pouring water from an urn into rippling water) he had on display during the Coast Village ArtWalk inMural painter painting art on a dome ceiling. early September 2002, at Saffron Gallery. Owner Lisa Loch sponsored him. Many more have been pacified by the peaceful scenes of mountains, clouds, pastures, foliage, and animals that grace the waiting room at Pueblo Radiology Center on De La Vina. If you have been a patient and have gone through an MRI, those images of vines weaving through a pergola as the sun filters through translucent leaves and the birds, dragonflies, insects, and other animals painted there to take your mind off the present were painted by Mr. Leasure. “Joyce Cooper, a local designer, saw my work and hired me to paint those murals,” Paul says, leaning on a ladder in his Coast Village Circle studio, as we discuss his talent and his vocation. “When they remodeled they wanted to make the patients feel warm, invited, comfortable,” he explains. “The mural in the lobby is of Ortega Ridge at sunset, and the two in the MRI room (one on the ceiling, one on the wall) are pretty much local area scenes,” he says. The one on the wall, for example, is looking out from the hills over Montecito towards the water. “I like the ceiling mural,” Paul says, “because as a patient lies there he is examining my painting, looking for the hidden creatures; I hope it takes his or her mind off what they’re going through at the moment.” Dome ceiling mural artPaul’s first Santa Barbara commission came in 1999, when the full-page ad he ran in Art & Antique magazine was spotted by a relative of Janet and husband, Jack Darian, of Hope Ranch, who showed it to the couple. The Darians concurred that it was the “kind of thing they liked,” and after some telephone conversations, flew Paul to Santa Barbara (he was living near Cleveland, Ohio at the time). “I’d never been here,” Paul laughs, “but Janet warned me that I would love it, and would probably end up living here.” She, of course, turned out to be absolutely correct. His project was to paint a mural on all four walls of the Darians’ powder room in the Old World style he seems to prefer. “It was a small space, but the painting included the ceiling and they liked it,” Leasure says. The Darians’ friends liked it too, and Paul’s next job brought him to the Montecito home of Alan and Sandy Kirkby, who asked Paul to paint the ceiling in the dining room of the home they had spent three years building together. As he sat down to draw a sketch for the ceiling, Paul noticed the chandelier was ten inches off center, because of some earlier additions that had moved the footprint of the room. While laying on his back in the dining room trying to decide what to do to make the off-center chandelier inconspicuous, he came up with the idea of statues of human figures with chains in each corner of the ceiling. “All the figures are pulling the chains as if they are struggling to support the chandelier,” he explains. “The positions of the bodies and the stress they are undergoing to hold the chains in place distract the eye and… it works.” He marries and moves to Santa Barbara Although a healthy portion of Paul’s work was now in Montecito and Santa Barbara, he was still living in Ohio. When the Kirkbys commissioned a 9-foot by 16-foot mural for the same dining room where he had painted the ceiling mural, for example, the scene was painted on one giant canvas in Ohio, and then transported to Montecito before being fixed to the wall of the home. When that was finished, Paul continued on to the couple’s kitchen, where he ad-libbed trumpet vines with hummingbirds, snails, caterpillars, butterflies, and a leaf bug (all painted delicately and accurately from his mind’s eye – there was no template or sketch!) around the outside arch of the nearby sunroom. After the Darian and Kirkby projects, the Kirkbys had a cocktail party and Paul was commissioned to do a large piece for a different Hope Ranch couple – another complete powder room! The travel began to take its toll. “It was so beautiful out here, and my clients were so supportive,” Leasure says, “that I made the decision to move.” Before that, however, he had some personal business to attend to. “I asked Susanne to marry me,” he says sheepishly. Ever the romantic, Paul This is Paul Leasure’s first Santa Barbara job: sylvan scenes in a powder room of Jack and Janet Darian’s Hope Ranch home The ceiling and wall murals are in the dining room of Alan and Sandy Kirkby of Montecito Artist Paul Leasure in the waiting room of Pueblo Radiology Center; behind him is the mural he painted No, the pillars aren’t real either – it all comes from the fertile imagination of artist Paul Leasure recounts that, “Of all the artists I’ve ever hired, and there have been about forty, she was the most capable of handling the rigors of Renaissance Realism that I specialize in.” She was also apparently most capable of handling him, “not to mention that I fell in love with her,” he adds. They were married a month later, and moved out a week after the wedding. Paul says he loves to paint – he’s had no formal training, but has been an artist all his life – and especially loves to “render realism.” His earliest memory is creating a portrait of his grandmother when he was in the fourth grade. He sold his first painting while still in high school: to a local real estate developer. Paul had planned on becoming an electronics engineer. Instead, he ended up as a single parent and confesses that the artwork was a way of being able to work at home, support the household, and to be with his son, Michael. “It was a good decision,” he says. “Michael and I have a very close relationship now.” Leasure admits it took several years of poverty to reach his goal of making a living through his art, “but once I got through that,” he says with some modesty, “I pretty much cornered the Cleveland market in fine art murals.” His ad in Art & Antiques came about through a desire “to branch out a bit.” Dave and Maureen (Mo) Chambers of Santa Barbara have recently commissioned three works by Leasure: a 12-foot x 17-foot vineyard scene, a mural Paul is calling “Dawn in Carpinteria,” and an as yet untitled sunset scene set “somewhere near Goleta” (both are 4’ x 6’).

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