Leila Rastegar loves light. You can tell by the way she treats it so gingerly in her paintings, many of which are landscapes of her beloved hometown of Eden Prairie. Every blade of grass, every depression in the snow, every undulation of cloud glows with its own little je ne sais quoi when Leila has painted it.
The effect is transportative. When Leila paints a mellow summer morning, you can feel the dew burning off the back of your neck. When she paints countryside blanketed beneath rolling gray sky, you shiver. And when the only light is cast by lonely street lamps, you can’t help but wonder why you haven’t headed home yet.
“I most love the end of the day, when the light turns golden just before fleeing the scene, and the shadows grow longer,” said Leila. “But I never know when the light is going to capture me. I can find inspiration in unlikely places – not only in the scenic vistas, but also the alleyways separating the rows of neat little houses all around the suburbs.
“Even as a child I loved to paint and draw. I attended a private school for art, and taught classes there myself before moving to America. I was lucky to grow up in Shiraz, a city in Iran cradled by mountains with lots of gardens and flowers. Very pretty – but there, we didn’t have snow.
“Snow! It is so beautiful, even if Minnesotans don’t want to hear about it in the middle of winter. Snow adds lovely blue and purple shadows to everything, which I confess to exaggerating a little in my work. I want people to see the beauty of the environment through my own eyes, so they can feel the same emotions that I do.
“When I was ready to move a few years ago, I told my son I wanted to live in a place with nice, peaceful landscapes. It is no coincidence that I moved to Eden Prairie. The sky here is vast, with Purgatory Creek cutting like silver through the scenery. All I have to do to get inspiration here is go for a walk with my sketchbook and camera.
“When I lived in Iran I also got a degree in engineering. I worked as a systems analyst for a little while, and I would have made more money if I stayed at it. But I couldn’t keep forcing myself to do something I don’t love. I believe an artist has to create art. They have no choice but to put everything else aside in the name of their passion.
“I’m now fortunate to paint full-time, which I never could have hoped to do without so welcoming a community. Many of my landscapes have been displayed at galleries and museums in North Dakota and Minnesota, and I’ve received awards from the art centers here in Hopkins and Bloomington.
“I also do pet portraits by commission. It began when I painted my daughter’s cats and my son’s boxer dog as gifts. Soon their friends saw, and they asked if I could paint their pets as well. Painting pets is like painting landscapes. They both connect you to natural beauty, in their own ways. I work with reference material like I do when I paint landscapes, but I also try to convey as much of the pet’s personality as I’m able. A camera alone is not enough to capture an animal’s spirit.”
Leila Rastegar is not simply a painter living in Eden Prairie. She is Eden Prairie’s painter, immortalizing our town with a talent that must be equally honed and God-given. You may learn more about Leila, purchase her paintings, and commission her to paint your own pets at leilarastegar.com.