Leah Yerpe ‘05

Major: Fine arts: studio artsNew York magazine cover with Leah Yerpe's illustration, Medusa II
Transfer Institution/Additional Education: SUNY at Fredonia, Pratt Institute
Current Position: Artist
Current City: Brooklyn, NY

When Leah Yerpe was just beginning her journey as an artist, she would create her own galleries with her friends, transforming an apartment or empty storefront into a house of art. “There was one,” she remembers fondly, “We decided to turn the living room of this house into our art gallery, and we took the address [to name it]…123 Whatever Street Gallery…with awful yellow wallpaper with flowers; it did not look like a real art gallery. I remember we even got an ad in the local newspaper about this exhibition.”

Leah laughs as she concludes, “It was just this college living room.”

Though Leah acknowledges that those exhibitions will always remain among her favorites, her work has a presence in esteemed galleries and publications in New York, across the United States, and around the world. Case in point: last year, one of her drawings, Medusa II, was used as the cover of New York magazine.

Aquila illustration by Leah Yerpe

Leah graduated with a fine arts degree from Jamestown Community College in 2005. She continued her art education at SUNY at Fredonia and Pratt Institute, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn. In her artwork Leah focuses on the human figure. She explains, “We can relate to human bodies… When you use the human body, you can use that body language, a nice, subtle way of conveying information without having to actually write it out in a text.”

Leah began her art journey at Jamestown Community College. “I knew that I wanted to pursue art…I knew that I wanted to spend my life making things, creating things, and I wanted those things to go out into the world, for people to see them.” She adds, “Art school is very expensive, and artists, believe it or not, are not guaranteed to make a lot of money right away.” JCC was a great way to get two years of college education, save thousands of dollars in tuition and fees, and construct an art portfolio.

Her time at JCC was well spent. Leah welcomed the atmosphere of artistic professionals who were willing to give her “a dose of reality” while fully encouraging her passion. Her most influential professor was Yu Kanazawa. Leah took numerous art classes from Kanazawa, including her first drawing class. In this class, Leah remembers, “I fell in love with drawing the human body in a way that I hadn’t before, and I think that kind of set me on the path that I am on now.”

JCC, she realized, was a place where “all of a sudden I could really challenge myself and I’m being encouraged to challenge myself, and not take the easy road.”

She also remembers the challenge Kanazawa placed before her. “I would do what I would think is a really good job, and the professor would say, ‘That’s really great, now what can you do to make it better?’” JCC, she realized, was a place where “all of a sudden I can really challenge myself and I’m being encouraged to challenge myself, and not take the easy road.” Leah knew that the artist’s path was not for the faint hearted. “You are going to have to work so unbelievably hard in order to just scratch the surface of this career field. You have to have an incredible amount of drive and determination.”

Phoenicis by Leah YerpeLeah demonstrated that conviction as she continued her studies and shared her talent with the art world. To Leah, success “would mean that I’m able to make my artwork full time…I can earn a living off of my work, and that people can see it, it is actually out there in the world; that to me is success.”

Living in Brooklyn, with her artwork in numerous exhibitions and publications, Leah is indeed successful, though she attributes some of it to luck. “I feel very lucky. I’ve worked incredibly hard to make this happen, but there’s a lot of luck that comes into play too. I like to acknowledge all the people who have taken the time to take me seriously as a creative person, and to see potential in my work, and for them to invest in me. I feel very grateful for those opportunities.”

In Leah’s words, her JCC college experience “worked out perfect.” From the freedom to choose her education to the support of caring professors and the encouragement to experiment, Leah knew that JCC was a great fit. She continues to work by Kanazawa’s creed: “You have to constantly improve…That is something that I live by as an artist now; I’m constantly looking for ways that I can make my art more sophisticated, and just better.”

Images on this page, from top to bottom:
Medusa II, on the cover of New York magazine, 2013. Leah Yerpe, 2012.
Aquila. Leah Yerpe, 2012.
Phoenicis. Leah Yerpe, 2013.

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