For three decades I have used the figure to talk about emotional and psychological states. Initially my work, whether it was mixed-media sculpture, ceramic sculpture, or painting, was autobiographical. I did not attempt to create “memoir,” but sought to explore feelings associated with life stages and bodily changes — the anxieties, fears, and pleasures that come with those transitions.
In 1989, when I exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, curator Elizabeth Sussman, now at the Whitney Museum of American Art, wrote, "Leslie Sills' multi-media sculptures communicate one of the movements (feminism) central insights — the body may be used as a potent metaphor for psychological, sexual, and historical content."
More recently, my focus has been on childhood. I consider myself one of those lucky adults for whom childhood is not very far away. I still relish the simple joys of a less complicated life — childhood games, attachments to ones pets, wonder at nature’s cycles. I have taught art to grammar school age children since my 20s and continue to marvel at the straightforward ways in which they create. Certainly my students and their art have crept into my imagery.
At the same time, I am aware and horrified by what some children must face. In a few of my recent paintings, I have chosen to represent catastrophes and the fallout for young victims. Some of my students have asked me why I want to paint something so sad. My answer: so we don’t forget these children; so we try to help and prevent future disasters; so we remain grateful for our good fortunes.
The 1970s adage, “the personal is political,” underlies all my art making. I see the world through a feminine and feminist lens. To quote the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, “I like to think I built on my strengths, my womanhood being one.”