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The monolith

10 minutes

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What will an artist paint when a new high-rise blocks her view of New York?

For Gwyneth Leech, being an artist is fraught with many of the same frustrations inherent to more typical lines of work – anticipatory morning dread, dispiriting commutes, and bouts with disinterest and procrastination. Further exacerbating the daily grind, in 2015 a hotel construction project began rising beside her Manhattan studio, set to slowly but surely eclipse the 13th-floor skyline panorama from which she drew much of her inspiration.

At first, Leech believed that the upward-creeping high-rise would so rupture her process that she’d have no choice but to leave. In time, however, she found a fresh muse in what she called ‘my new friend, the monolith’, painting the building as, month by month, it climbed ever upward. As time passed, and the workers reached eye level, they’d even exchange waves and words, and she’d show her work to them out of the window. For Leech, there was an unexpected and cathartic beauty to the incremental inevitability of her view’s erasure, which seemed to echo recent losses of close family members to chronic illnesses.

The short documentary The Monolith is a brisk and welcoming glimpse into Leech’s unexpected creative awakening. By focusing on a single project, skilfully interweaving aspects of Leech’s personal life, and augmenting her paintings with animation, the US director Angelo J Guglielmo Jr builds his own inspired work – a refreshing standout in the overcrowded artist portrait genre. It helps that Leech’s brilliant, impressionistic creations are themselves so enchanting, reflecting the endless, ever-changing contours, colours and possibilities of a New York City skyline.

Written by Adam D’Arpino

Director: Angelo J Guglielmo Jr

Producers: Andy Bowley, Rosie Walunas

10 March 2021