Luís Guillermo Leigh was born in Santiago, Chile and immigrated to Canada at twenty, where he found his artistic muse in the Canadian landscape—drawing on inspiration from Turner, Monet, Cezanne and Tom Thompson.

He completed training at the Ottawa School of Art in drawing, life drawing, portraiture, printing, watercolour, and landscape painting. In 2012, Leigh devoted himself exclusively to landscape painting. Although he favours paints in oils, he also works in watercolours and prints (woodcuts, linocuts).

His work often depicts landscapes accessible from the Ottawa-Gatineau region, including the Ottawa River, the Thousand Islands, and Algonquin Provincial Park. He has been fortunate to also paint at the Killarney Park in Ontario. However, Leigh’s choice of landscapes is not limited to Ontario. He prefers to reflect the diversity of Canada, leading to a series of paintings of parks in Alberta, including ones in Kananaskis, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise, and the landscapes of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Guillermo recently expanded his artistic repertoire and completed a stunning watercolour series on China after travelling there in 2019.

He has participated in several exhibitions, such as the juried 35th Annual Lacloche Art Show and the “That’s Life Exhibition” in Ottawa 2012 and 2013| A group exhibition of Nectar Artists in 2015.

His work is currently on display at the Lineage Arts Gallery. His paintings are in private collections in Canada, US and Chile.

Early Morning at David Lake Luis Leigh Guillermo Lineage Arts Gallery Ottawa Killarney Park

Interview with the artist


How did your journey into the world of art begin?

I enjoyed art courses in high school, but it was all fairly rudimentary.  My artistic impulses started to awaken more when I came to Canada. I did my first oil painting when I was 20 while working at a mine in Sudbury. It was a great relief from the sort of drudgery of working in your physical body all day long. But really, it was the colour of the Canadian landscape that ignited my passion. That experience was amazing. Three years later, I started studying at Carleton University.  I was lucky because I ended up renting a room from Bruce Garner, who is a local sculptor and he encouraged me. I remember he gave me a used paintbox with some of the basics. My love for painting continued to grow and I started taking classes at the Ottawa School of Art, again basic stuff, but at this point, art was just apart of me.


Who are your biggest artistic influences?

Tom Thompson made quite an impression on me and it’s still a strong influence in my work mostly on his use of strong and almost unmixed oils. As I started traveling, I became familiar with Monet and Cezanne, both of whom understood light. They were themselves influenced by J.M.W Turner. I only started studying Turner later in my life. I wish I started studying him sooner. He has dominated my attention over the last few years. It moved me to develop this dual personality. In plein air painting, I tend to use opaque colours, not a lot of blending. In the studio, I tend to use layers of transparent, primary oil colours that blend to create a range of other colours. I am fascinated by manipulating the paint to capture the feeling, the light, the vibrations of a location. The process, however, is painstakingly slow as I must wait for each layer of colour to dry before applying another layer.


How would you describe your technique?

I’m a mix between Turner and Thompson. I’ve tried to marry the idea of colour and light across my work. As far as technique goes, I generally start by layering primary colours, beginning with yellow. Little by little, the painting takes form.


What is it about the Canadian landscape that inspires you?

I started my life as an immigrant in Canada by working in the mines in Sudbury. I boarded with a mining family in a little town called Lively. It was my first fall in Northern Ontario and I was only 20. I remember going for a walk in the bush, which started only a block or so away from where I was staying. I was surrounded by wild forest with a mix of trees, all different. It was a riot of colours: reds, oranges, purples, pinks, yellows, and different greens. This was so different from the orderly and virtually monochromatic cultivated forest and land that I had experienced back home. This was vibrationally off the scale for me. My love for the Canadian landscape grew later when I saw Tom Thompson’s paintings. I knew inherently what his work was capturing. I grew in my appreciation of the colour.


When you talk about the vibrations of a place, what does that mean?

I wish I could explain that in words. It’s a feeling. JMW Turner, the British painter, has influenced me deeply. He painted in transparent colours using thin layers. The mix of colours, in my eyes, vibrates when you do layers. I paint the primary colours at the start of every painting. It’s by mixing those primary colours that I allow the light to go through and the whole thing acquires a vibration that is very unique to the painting. What I try to do is to make it reflect what I have in mind, the memory that I have of that place. My work isn’t just reflecting the colour of what I’m seeing immediately, but it’s reflecting what I’m feeling in the moment of being in that place.


How does that concept influence your work?

I believe painting is subjective. The painter brings their perception into the work. When you put a landscape on canvas, it’s no longer a hundred percent reflective of what was there. It’s what you saw, and what you felt at that precise moment. The light that you saw, the reflections that exist. Those are all little things that sort of stay in the artists’ brain. Later on, it takes me a long time to do the painting because I have to manipulate the paint until I get the effects that capture the feeling. In that sense, the painter brings their own personality into the creative order. I am not copying the landscape. I’m making the landscape my own.


Is there an undertone of spirituality in your work that you try to capture intentionally?

Most artists don’t like to talk about this, but the act of creation is a spiritual thing. Humans are not just physical beings. I think that our interaction with the 3D world happens not just in the physical. When we create art, we access our physical, mental, and spiritual being and we bring that whole being into the work;  we are not just physical beings but are spiritual beings that think and exist in the physical world.


A recurring theme in your work is the Canadian landscape. Before you immigrated to Canada, you were in Chile. Has your heritage influenced your work at all?

I left Chile as a 20-year-old. I’ve rediscovered Chile since leaving and I have painted many a Chilean landscape. It is also a beautiful country with many protected areas worth visiting. Easter Island is a Chilean jewel.

Beyond that, it has not really influenced my work. My art training in Chile was rudimentary. The journey of being an immigrant has a profound impact on my work.


How so?

I do not often forget that I am an immigrant. When I speak, I still have a Spanish accent.  I was lucky enough to have immigrated here young. I still had the flexibility to adapt. Leaving Chile was a huge event. You leave your family, your friends, your support, your contacts, and your influence. I came, like many, without much by way of physical or financial support. It was very lonely at times. However, I came with my values well-formed, fairly educated, and a positive attitude. The most important element as I see it now is that becoming an immigrant starts you with a blank page. In Spanish, we say, borron y cuenta nueva.

Imagine I’m 20. I have a whole life in front of me. Nobody knows me here. I can do anything I want. The shackles of my history and the troubles in my homeland are behind me. I did my first oil painting while working in the mines at 20.

Everything was possible. I finished a Master’s in Economics and served Canada for 31 years as an Economist but kept my artistic life alive until my rebirth as a full-time artist almost nine years ago.

I always have a little foot back home. I don’t think that ever goes away. And that’s fine. What’s wrong with that? It brings a beautiful kind of wealth to Canada. I think that’s what is great about immigration.

To be honest, if I stayed in Chile, I think I would not have the opportunity to pursue painting.


You studied Economics and Art. Those are two vastly different subjects. Did your training in Economics help you as an artist?

Economics is all about interpreting the world in pictures and lines. It doesn’t look at the world as a one-dimensional thing. It’s complex. That concept has been foundational to my understanding of art.


What do you hope to accomplish as an artist?

As an artist, I want to achieve that integration that I was talking about before, of marrying colour and light. The other thing I want to do is paint my way across Canada. There’s still so much for me to see in this country. The more I see, the better my art will become.


How can people support BIPOC artists?

I can think of two important ways. One is for consumers to search a little bit beyond what they normally look at when it comes to art. Do a little bit of digging. Find the local artists in your area. BIPOC artists are in every community. The other thing is that BIPOC artists need to be supported at an academic level. It’s time to include BIPOC people in the academic and curatorial spaces. We need more BIPOC art curators coming out of universities and included in mainstream institutions. We need to be included in these spaces.