NORTH PROVIDENCE – There’s an inexplicable urge to create felt by artists: a deep need more than a want to pick up the pencil or paintbrush.
For David Raphael LeClair, the feeling is hard to ignore.
“It’s like a little pebble in my soul, and I need to carve it out,” said LeClair, a North Providence High School senior who over the course of his high school career has produced a series of portraits based on the life and art of the late musician David Bowie.
His teacher Ryan Clinton described LeClair as “an exceptionally talented student, who has used his art to develop a focus and style that is truly unique.”
LeClair started his Bowie series as a freshman at NPHS.
“Something that I think about a lot is that I kind of marked the passage of time in my life through the art that I do,” he said. “I can look at something I made and not only know how many hours I put into it, but the point in my life that I was in when I made this. In that way, they become extraordinarily significant to me.”
Four years later, LeClair’s portraits fill an entire wall in the school’s gallery.
He wasn’t always an artist. The very first portrait he completed was done as part of a summer reading project.
“I just resolved myself that I was going to sit down and paint, having no idea what I was doing,” said LeClair. He watched a YouTube tutorial and got to work.
Today, he said he’s proud of the progress he’s made as a painter. He sees it, especially, in his impression of faces and skin textures.
“That one is a little off, and I don’t like it,” he said, critiquing one of his early portraits. “But I think my most recent one is a lot different, and I appreciate that I can just see the growth.”
Now, he waits until the end to paint the skin. “It ends up feeling like a finale of sorts. It’s become a lot more fun for me,” he said.
So, why is David Bowie the muse?
LeClair’s father showed him the 1986 film “Labyrinth,” which stars Bowie and features his music. Years later, when LeClair was discovering new music, Bowie became a fast favorite.
“Something so special about him, to me, is that through the 30-something albums that he made, you can view the progression of his life,” LeClair said. “Not only did each individual song tell a story, but the overall landscape of his music is the story of his life and where he’s been and where he wanted to go. I just found that so captivating.”
LeClair started to paint portraits of Bowie, and hasn’t stopped since.
“When I paint him I can kind of interpret a sense of his being during that time. I wanted to paint as many eras of him as I could,” he said.
His teacher noted LeClair’s progression, saying he’s grown immensely over the last four years.
“He’s come into his own,” Clinton said. “Very rarely do you get a student that is so focused and has such an eye, a vision for what they want to accomplish and a consistent inspiration. It’s nice to witness. He has such a laser-focus on what he wants to achieve, and it’s obvious in his work.”
LeClair said he will sit down and paint for nine hours at a time, unable to walk away from the work.
“I know the feeling I get when I know I need to paint,” he said, and he’s not planning to stop the series any time soon.
“I don’t think I’ll ever not want to be painting Bowie.”