With great joy, I found out today that Leo is back. God works in mysterious ways. Hugs across the ocean. Love, Dad.

Art Axis

Prodigy to share passions at Poppy


Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Few people embody this aphorism more than Leo Ionita, something the Chicago-based painter readily admits. His Artrageous Friday visit to Poppy will provide both audience and artist a tangible reminder of this truth and a glimpse of rebirth. Although each stop along the downtown gallery crawl allows onlookers to view the creation of pictures in various mediums, visitors to Poppy will be watching the next scene in a remarkable life story unfold. For Ionita, the evening is another small step along what he called a “path of discovery.”

By age 8, the Romanian immigrant was approaching the clean expanse of a canvas, brush in hand. By 13, his dynamic abstractions, marked by vivid, swirling color and gargantuan figures, were selling for thousands of dollars and earning him comparisons to Picasso. A textbook definition of prodigy, Ionita’s face and work were splashed across the pages of Time, People and the Chicago Sun-Times, and he was featured on “The Today Show” and “CBS Morning News.”


Fishbowl-like attention and family tension led Ionita to become “disgusted” with painting, he said over the phone last week. With little discernible childhood to account for, he stepped away from art for an extended season to try new things. He went to school and worked odd jobs. Whatever he did, he tried to remain creative — working on cars, in interior design. Assisting his mother with her responsibilities as a caretaker for a woman with multiple sclerosis proved a surprising, fateful turn. Ionita developed a close relationship with the woman, who eventually asked if he would paint something for a benefit event. He didn’t know whether painting was still something he had in him, if his “hand still worked.” To his astonishment, Ionita said he “found my talent again … found my passion again” and began painting more and more. There was a world-weariness evident in the 29-year-old’s voice but also, most definitely, the sound of promise and hope. It’s clear Ionita is enjoying painting again and has even been able to look on his past work with increasing fondness.


On a visit to Chicago, Columbia resident Sally Silvers noticed the many works Ionita had completed for her sister, his new patron; Silvers commissioned him to visit Columbia and take on some new works. With her encouragement, he has become something of an artist-in-residence here, “not in the traditional sense but … in the Leo sense,” she said. Over the past few months, Ionita has made several return visits, soaking in the ambience of an artistic community he praised, completing works for Silvers and her neighbors. Silvers watched Ionita fall in love with the people and city, their soul communicated through his visions, she said. Building a relationship with Poppy over his repeated returns, it seemed natural to afford Ionita the opportunity to create there. On Friday, the gallery will become a painter’s studio, a venue for the public to participate in Ionita’s wildly creative, highly spontaneous process.


“Seeing what he has painted recently … just being able to look at his canvases and see how powerful they are and also speaking with somebody who has the kind of background he does is very awe-inspiring,” Poppy owner Barb McCormick said. “We saw it as an opportunity to bring somebody into the gallery that really had a passion for what he was doing and a real yearning to share it with others.” The nature of Ionita’s appearance at Poppy isn’t unusual — at the heights of his early career, he was commissioned by the French government to complete three paintings while dignitaries dined — but is something he finds invigorating, allowing others to interact in the creative process and not just witness a finished product. Ionita even promised attendees the chance to “put in a brushstroke or two.”


Those who take Ionita up on his offer will encounter him as an ordinary guy who just happens to have lived an extraordinary life. “How many child prodigies do you run across?” Silvers asked. “…It’s so funny because I just look at him” and think. “You’re just Leo. And, then, as all this stuff evolves, it just takes your breath away because he is just Leo.” Recent works by Ionita will be displayed at Poppy starting Friday and will remain through Aug. 31. Poppy is located at 920 E. Broadway and online at poppyarts.com.


Reach Aarik Danielsen at 573-815-1731 or e-mail ajdanielsen@columbiatribune.com.

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Comentariu publicat de CARMEN HUZUM pe August 21, 2010 la 6:39am
Bine ai revenit, Leo!


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