On a late summer evening, as the leaves entered their deep green prefall shade, Leon A. Comstock Jr. packed up his camera and hiked out into Monson, Massachusetts, after a storm to photograph the clouds. "I love clouds. As the storm is breaking up, they seem to be much more dramatic than when they're approaching," he says.
The Springfield, Massachusetts-based artist came upon a cemetery and took what would become a favorite shot, the clouds swooping up into the atmosphere. He hiked back home to translate the photo into his trademark trompe l'oeil style.
He started in on the painting, but grew frustrated. The piece wasn't capturing the hyperrealistic feel his work typically has. Comstock stopped himself. "I remembered that one of the reasons I paint is to have fun, to relax, so I kind of just had fun with it. Even though the clouds are a little cartoonish, a little stylized, they still resemble the original clouds relatively closely."
This moment of self-reflection was a reminder to appreciate painting, born from a time when Comstock almost lost his passion. For 29 years, he worked as a graphic artist for an engraving company to cover the bills his artwork couldn't pay. This was before computers could edit with a click or swipe of a mouse. For nine hours a day, he painstakingly retouched positive and negative photographs with a tiny brush.
"It became just work. Boring, tedious work.... I just didn't want to paint when I came home," Comstock recalls. In 2009, the engraving company shut its doors, and he realized he had a "golden opportunity to really paint again," and once more picked up his brush, the memory of his passion losing luster fresh in his mind.
Now Comstock has 11 pieces in a solo exhibition at Neumann Fine Art in Hillsdale, primarily landscapes, all with an underlying focus on nature. Maple trees, in particular, are a recurring theme. He loves the shape of their leaves.
While he painted One Evening in Monson from a photograph, that method only developed over the last five or 10 years. The winter landscapes came straight from his imagination. "I used to make everything up out of my head," he recalls, "and I realized that if I wanted to make something real, I had to start from something real."
From the precise swoop of snowflakes blown sideways to the dark, careful shadow of his beloved maple leaves, Comstock's self-taught mastery of hyperrealism is clear. The sharp contrast of a dry maple leaf's veins show a practiced, appreciative hand for the art he's creating and the passion he nearly lost.
Comstock's work is on display through July 11, with an opening reception on May 2 at 5:30pm at Neumann Fine Art. (413) 246-5776; Neumannfineart.com.