As a midwesterner who has long been inspired by Parisian cafe society, not to mention the female forms of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, it was inevitable (thanks to Donna Karan, who staged an exhibition for him years ago) that I would cross paths with the seductive figurative paintings of Malcolm T. Liepke.
Born in Minnesota, Liepke went to California to study painting at the vaunted Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, but dropped out before the end of his second year to go it alone in New York as a self-taught student of John Singer Sargent, Diego Velázquez, and Édouard Vuillard. He worked as an illustrator — his work gracing the covers of Time, Fortune, and Forbes — before giving up the profession to pursue painting full-time in the mid-80s. I’m glad he did, because his lavishly painted portraits of sexy sirens — which range from au naturel chanteuses to au courant fashion plates — continually breathe new life into the versatility of the thoroughly modern woman.
According to Liepke, “I see a girl with her head a certain way, and I find it telling, emotional, and I want to communicate that certain truth. That truth or emotion makes us feel less alone, more human. Everyone goes through life with their own problems, but we live in a pretty universal world. I’ve found that the more personal the piece, the more people connect with it.” To wit: one minute this woman is exploring her sexuality under the covers; the next she’s ready to paint the town in a mink stole and pink rose in her hair; and the next she’s owning the bar with a man I’d love to dress. I hope this latter point is evident in the Fall 2013 collection, which was heavily inspired by the moods conveyed through Liepke’s purposeful brushstrokes. As the man once said of his art, “Bottom line: it’s the emotional, and I just want to get it out. It’s difficult to express through words things that are so beautiful that they have no words. I can’t explain it. I have to paint it.”