A Spectrum of Serenity and Surprise:
The Kinetic Installations of Leilani Schweitzer
“Vera Chroma” (i.e. “True Color”) is the name chosen by artist Leilani Schweitzer for her company- the focus of which is the creation of complex, colorful kinetic works for private and public spaces. Truth in the sense of clarity, transparency, and coherence is a threefold theme that runs through Schweitzer’s life as an artist-designer and as an advocate for medical patients. The story of her artworks is intimately connected to the story of her life. The process of making her suspended, moving abstractions- images alive with change but maintaining an underlying stable pattern- echoes the processes she has experienced along her own path of loss, creative transformation, and cultural change-making.
After the loss of her son, Schweitzer began to work with squares of colored paper, hundreds and hundreds of them, hand-cut and stacked in piles. “The tedious action of cutting the paper squares along with the sound of the slicing blade was melodic, hypnotizing, and harmonizing. The process was therapeutic and healing.” Her years as a professional graphic designer had prepared her for this new work. Schweitzer’s cascading combinations of color-forms eventually grew beyond the processes of her own healing, developing into an entirely new kind of self-expression, and something that she could use to speak to people directly through a visual language of color that created instant emotional resonance.
Hunter Creek, paper, filament & wood. 7.5’ x 8’. Artist’s collection.
“Initially, I used paper paint samples I collected in handfuls from hardware stores. Since then, I have connected with PPG Paints and they have generously sent me hundreds of thousands of color samples.”
These first pieces were made as kinetic wall works, moving paintings, for private homes. Drawing on various elements of her client’s lives, their favorite colors, memories, objects, and the surrounding landscape of the residence, Schweitzer says that these artworks are about integration. “When I create these pieces, I’m bringing together aspects that in some way expresses something larger, a pattern in color reflecting the client’s life experiences. These works are what I would call environmental, not only because they create an impact in a space but because they are in conversation with certain aspects of the client’s physical property, say the flowers in the garden or the colors of a cliff.” The relationship of the art to natural phenomena is undeniable and the contrast between the delicacy of the movements and the overall impact of a large spectrum in a state of flux creates a powerful focal point.
Rain Forest Fire, paper, filament and wood. 9’ x 14’. Private Collection.
Seattle, paper, filament and wood. 7’ x 9’. Private Collection/ Palm Springs, paper, filament & wood. 4’ x 6’. Private Collection.
“The paper squares are lightweight and flutter with the slightest air movement. The way prairie grasses wave back and forth in the wind has always intrigued me. I love the quiet of these pieces. There is no heavy equipment needed to make them, just my hands and many hours.” says Schweitzer.
Morgan Hill., paper, filament & wood. 7’ x 12’. Private Collection.
Schweitzer’s work as a patient and family advocate in healthcare is about supporting people so that the truth can prevail. For more than a decade she has worked within the complicated and often fraught legal and ethical systems around the ramifications of medical errors. “When a medical error is made and it is fatal, families want answers. Above all, they want transparency. They want to know that responsibility is being taken and that changes will be made to ensure that others will be safer.”
Schweitzer’s art has expanded to include the environments in which she practices advocacy. When asked if there is a connection between the art she creates for medical facilities and the work she does to bring about positive changes in the system she answers with an emphatic Yes! “The strain people are under in a hospital can be terrible. I was recently installing a large piece and the conversations that came up with visitors, including the staff, made me understand more deeply what a soothing and calming effect this work can have on people.”
Vitality, resin, stainless steel & extruded aluminum, 21.5’ x 10.5’. ProMedica Healthcare, Toledo, OH
“For public settings, and out of doors, I use architectural resin. This material is transparent and resilient. It stands up to wind and weather. It is ideal for hospital settings as it can be cleaned in compliance with necessary infection control standards. Changing light through the transparency of the resin creates depth and a different composition from every angle.”
Vitality, resin, stainless steel & extruded aluminum. ProMedica Healthcare, Toledo, OH
The effect that these works have on people, the inducement of a more peaceful state of being as well as creating a fascination, are related to the processes of dissolution and integration themselves. Psychologically speaking, in times of stress, especially the stresses created by the experience of hospital visits, a person’s natural equilibrium is disturbed. In Schweitzer’s kinetic works, there is an underlying pattern or form that is likewise “disturbed” or “dissolved”, albeit temporarily, by air currents. But the moving pieces inevitably come back together again to reveal the abstract pattern they make. There is an effect of something coherent being dismantled into its constituent parts as it is in flux, then returning to its overarching form.
The themes of truth, of transparency, of an honest connection to the big picture can be experienced in these pieces- and this connection to Schweitzer’s other work in healthcare isn’t simply metaphorical- it is an honest lived, experiential connection.
“On a recent installation a guard at the facility visited throughout our time putting up the piece. He expressed to me that he was moved deeply by the colors and the movement. ‘I can’t stop looking at the art.’ He said, ‘It’s giving me a sense of peace. I can rest there.’” What else could an artist wish for- to know her work has brought comfort and joy and provided a way for someone to feel more deeply connected- to know that a sense of wholeness has been restored.
Waterwall, resin, stainless steel & extruded aluminum, 22’ x 14.5’. Collection of the American Cancer Society. Houston, TX.