The Autumn Spirit: Susanne Caygill and David Leffel

My favorite autumnal painter, David Leffel, is a master teacher and painter. His ability to arrange simple objects, then paint the light is legend. All of his paintings, like any good painting, are about the same subject: light.

I only met him once… yet, I know him. I studied with one of his students, Greg Drinkwine, and spent hours at galleries in Santa Fe looking at art books to study his works. Well-trained, master¬† painters put it all there, right on the canvas for you to see the world through their eyes. I tell you, he is a remarkable person.

David Leffel, self-portrait

David Leffel is an Autumn type and through his paint brush teaches the spirit of autumn with his thick impasto stokes, a master of the Alla Prima style of painting: rich, authentic, lavish, nothing gratuitous. He has a reverence for “space” and shows us that without space around an object, the “thing” itself has less import. Leffel’s “space” is heavy with depth and quiet purpose… to let the objects breath. His impasto brush strokes remind me of the generosity I experience with autumnal types of people – just like the cornucopia spilling over with the autumn harvest.

David Leffel

Another famous Autumn, Susanne Caygill, pioneer of Seasonal Theory, was in some ways different than the energy of this painting. She was not always as serene, however, she always exuded great purpose, which IS reflected in the composition of this painting. I remember as a young girl hearing her talk about the swirling leaves of Autumn, and thinking she was just like that: windswept, a little disorganized, beautiful. She could do nothing in a small way!

Susanne Caygill, circa 1950


I remember something else. Sometimes, she WAS like this quiet, rich painting (first one). As when she lectured there were no filler words and like a consummate performer she filled the space and was composed. Another example of her fastidiousness to detail for things visual, is the memory I have of her sitting at her dressing table watching her put on lipstick. There were many beauty related objects, tubes of lipstick, perfume, makeup, etc. methodically arranged on her dressing table. There was no space between each object. When she put the lipstick tube back on the table, it fell over and knocked several things out of place. She became flustered because we were late, but wouldn’t leave, until everything was restored to order, which took some time because everything was so tightly arranged that it was difficult to put one thing in it’s place without knocking over something next to it. Not until every tube of lipstick was lined up to perfection would she get up to leave.

We all teach better by example than by our words. Susanne taught me how a person can be like the swirling leaves of autumn, and also have the zen-like focus to make things “just so.” David Leffel taught me the power of composition and the profundity of the spaces between “things”.

David Leffel, oil still life


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