Painting, Largesse and Life: A Conversation with Leah Durner

Andrews, Jorella G. and Durner, Leah. 2019. Painting, Largesse and Life: A Conversation with Leah Durner. New York: Leah Durner. [Book]

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Abstract or Description

Leah Durner is a contemporary abstract painter living and working in New York City. She is one of the artists whose work I discuss in my book The Question of Painting: Rethinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty (Bloomsbury, 2018) and a detail of her 2006 painting Rousseau—named after the French eighteenth-century philosopher and advocate of freedom and compassion, Jean-Jacques Rousseau; he was also a composer, novelist and botanist—is on
its cover.

For Durner, as for me, the writing of the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961) has long been an important, ongoing source of inspiration. This extended conversation with Durner about the relation of her work to practices and histories of painting acts as an important companion piece to the book. Durner reflects on her development as an artist since the 1980s and on how the activity of painting has led her to identify and pursue some particularly deep veins of intellectual and ethical curiosity and concern. Uppermost here are Durner’s explorations of the aesthetic and ethical potential of the inter-related concepts of largesse, plenitude, generosity and extravagance, explorations that have emerged as much within and from her painterly practice as within and from her engagements with philosophy, particularly, phenomenology.

I think of this conversation as a companion piece to The Question of Painting because, as well as reflecting on Merleau-Pontean and painterly themes, it is also deeply phenomenological in its approach. It tells an expansive story of art, philosophy, the ethical, and the political through the lived experiences and insights of one person. As Merleau-Ponty put it (and these words are among my favourite; I come back to them again and again!): ‘We are grafted to the universal [a concept which he treated nonreductively, as open and full of differences] by that which is most our own.’

Item Type:



Leah Durner, Painting, Art History, Phenomenology, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Extravagance

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


4 January 2019

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

11 Jan 2019 10:23

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 17:03


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