Robin De Leeuw: When beauty springs from deformity
This is one of a series of articles on the artists taking part in the various Christmas markets in Brome-Missisquoi.
Life is full of twists and turns. Robin De Leeuw was once a cabinet maker and used only high-grade, flawless wood, with a uniform, consistent grain. Now that he is a wood turner, he likes pieces that he once would have rejected in the blink of an eye, to turn and shape them into unique works of art.
In his yard, where he greets me, Robin De Leeuw shows me a huge piece of wood that is biding its time. The trunk segment is deformed because of a tumour – yes, it happens in the plant world, too – which is called a burl. It’s misshapen, somewhat grotesque. But burls, knots, wood that has been spalted or altered by mushrooms….all these now enter into Robin’s creative realm. His creativity turns these imperfections into beautiful bowls, salad bowls, vases, items that are often very useful and always artistic.
One can safely say the aesthetics register of the Sutton wood turner is becoming quite extensive. He sometimes uses colours to dye pure-shaped pieces. Elsewhere, asymmetry prevails; contours and finishes are irregular, and there are even some holes in the bark and inner wood. There is something in these works that combines the contemporary with the archaic.
Best from the worst
Robin De Leeuw uses various types of wood for his creations, including maple and cherry. He’s partial to the unconventional; something that would be flawed in cabinet making lends a distinctive character here. In his workshop under his house, a sap maple tree trunk is about to undergo a makeover. Robin says the wood should have been white but a disease caused it to turn brown. It’s a fine sample, and so, too, is the Giguère maple. “The wood is bad,” explains Robin. “It’s soft, very linear and it doesn’t have any distinctive features, but the fact it is diseased might make it a very interesting piece.”
Robin has people in the area that scout around; they know what he likes and they provide him with the material. Then it’s the inspiration stage. How to follow the grain direction of the wood, what does he suggest? How to have as little wood wastage as possible? A wood turner can look at a piece for as long as six months before the idea takes seed…and that’s not to mention the other stages, which can extend over a long period of time.
The pieces taken by Robin De Leeuw for these forest pariahs engender their share of problems. You have to cope with irregular structures, for example. The wood turner shows me a piece he is in the process of shaping from the fork of a tree, the grain of which is scattered in every direction. Be careful you don’t break it! “You have to turn it at the right speed, otherwise it breaks up. But it gives you pieces that can last for generations,” remarks Robin.
For 12 years Robin De Leeuw has amazingly transformed wood, with his band saw, his lathe which is now computerized. “I have extended my technical boundaries,’’ he says. “I have evolved toward work that is more and more complicated and increasingly sophisticated.”
Currently, Robin’s creative works can be found in various Canadian provinces, in the United States and in Europe.
You can meet Robin De Leeuw and buy his finished products at the Christmas Market in Sutton, which will be held at Veterans Park, at the corner of Maple and Pleasant Street, November 26-27 and December 3-4, 2016.