OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Maker Grant Runner-Up David Leggett

OtherPeoplesPixels would like to congratulate the winners of the inaugural 2013 Maker Grant: Mary Patten, the winner of 2013's Maker Grant, and David Leggett, the Maker Grant Runner-Up. The Maker Grant is a partnership between OPP and Chicago Artists' Coalition to bring an unrestricted funding opportunity to contemporary Chicago-based artists. We'd like to thank our hundreds of applicants and specially congratulate our 25 finalists. The strength of your applications made the jury's decision very difficult, and we look forward to seeing many of you apply again next year.

The Winners were chosen by our outstanding jury:
Candida Alvarez, artist and professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Michael Darling, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Claire Pentecost, artist and participant in dOCUMENTA (13), professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

In case you missed the full announcement, you can read more here.
Since David also happens to be an OPP artist, we wanted to follow up on our interview in April 2012 in order to see what he's been working on in the studio lately...

White Guilt
Collage and acrylic on paper mounted on canvas

OtherPeoplesPixels: Congratulations on winning the Maker Grant runner-up prize! How will you use the money?

David Leggett: I will be using part of the money for an airbrush kit and art supplies. I've always wanted to try air brushing since I was a kid. I just never got around to it until now. I’m not sure how that will affect my work.

OPP: Has anything changed in your practice since our interview last year?

DL: I like to think I’m always changing with my work. As I get older, I pick up new techniques and approaches and drop the ones that no longer work. That’s not to say I never go back to old ideas and techniques from time to time. Lately, I have been using more collage elements like clay and found images. It’s a challenge to make them work in a composition, and these things have a history to them before I apply them in my work. I’ve had some images for years and have only recently found places for them to go. I have also been using spray paint and a paint marker a lot lately. I like the aesthetic look of them both. I know it is very popular to use these materials now, but they are new to me.

Let that boy cook
Collage and acrylic on panel

OPP: Any favorite pieces from 2013?

DL: Let that boy cook and Chiraq are two pieces that I really enjoyed making. Both of these paintings include found images that I’ve had in my studio for years.

OPP: You recently exhibited work in a group show called (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man at Tracey Williams, LTD in New York. Your work was viewed alongside that of three other Chicago-based artists: Trew Schriefer, Tim Nickodemus, and Rachel Niffenegger. According to the press release for the show, "The influence of Chicago is most evident in work by David Leggett, who reflects the city's popular culture while registering the influence of the Chicago Imagists." How do you think of the designation of being a "Chicago artist?" Would your work be different if you lived somewhere else?

DL: I’ve never really thought of myself as a “Chicago artist,” but I admire a lot of the Chicago Imagists. They have been a great influence on me, but so have many other artists, writers, comedians . . . the list goes on. My work reflects the environment that I’m in. I’m sure if I lived in a small, rural town my work would be influenced by that. I might be a great landscape artist and not know it.

But I always have a strategy for shows. When I learned the title and the other artists that would be in the show, I knew what approach I wanted to take. I wanted to display more of my Chicago roots for that show. I stuck with themes and subjects that reflected both good and bad aspects of Chicago that I often think about. I wanted to poke fun at what cities like New York may think about Chicago. This is in contrast to a group show called Squirts that I was in a week later at Regina Rex in New York. The work for that show was more focused on humor and popular culture outside of Chicago.

from Coco River Fudge Street
Blog drawing

OPP: When I interviewed you last year, you said you probably wouldn't keep up your daily drawing blog, Coco River Fudge Street, after the related exhibition at Hyde Park Art Center. But I see drawing through the end of March 2013. Are you still making a daily drawing? Why did you decide to keep going after all? Have the drawings since the exhibition changed in any substantial way?

DL: I stopped for a time. But I was compelled to start up again in July until the end of August 2012 after a bizarre review of my blog drawings was brought to my attention. I went back to Coco River Street with more focus than I had when the project officially ended months before. The new drawings were a response to that review, but I also missed the daily activity of drawing. I use a lot of pop cultural references in the blog drawings, and since I had stopped, a lot had happened in the news and a lot of things were on my mind. I started it up for another two months while I was working on the New York shows earlier this year. It helped with the nervous energy I feel when I make paintings, and I included drawings from the blog in both shows. I know I’ll never do another full year of daily drawings, but it is fun to come back from time to time.

To see more of David's work, please visit davidleggettart.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews David Leggett

Acrylic, felt, pom poms, silver leaf, and wiggle eyes on canvas

DAVID LEGGETT’s paintings and drawings synthesize the personal and the cultural. His egalitarian use of craft materials, paint and ink emphasizes the balanced treatment of his subject matter, which ranges from the silly to the profound. He has tackled such topics as the history of painting and the high/low divide, race and our perceptions of ourselves in relation to the images presented to us by pop culture, sex and desire as they relate to self-esteem and carnality. Leggett received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007. He lives and works in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When asked how you would describe your work to a stranger in an interview you did with LVL3 last year, you responded with a great tagline: "it’s everything wrong with the world with bright colors." How do the bright colors (as well as the craft materials like pom poms and glitter) function in your work? Is it about a kind of optimism? Or is it a deflection of all the bad stuff?

David Leggett: Color has always interested me. The artists that I was interested in as a child and as an adult had vibrant color palettes. All the cartoons I loved as a kid use vibrant colors as well. I do not think of the colors I use as being optimistic. I see color as a tool to bring the viewer in for a closer inspection. I work with subject matter that can turn some off. Color can be used to make medicine go down if you will. That could also be said about craft materials. I started using craft materials in order to problem-solve in my painting. I felt my painting was very rigid before I used craft materials. I wasn’t trying to figure out one painting from the next. When you work with craft materials you have figure out how to use them, so it doesn’t look like craft materials on canvas. It’s too easy for those materials to look like a child at play.
That Where They Made Me At
acrylic and shoe polish on canvas

OPP: Who are some of the artists you love? And what were your favorite cartoons growing up?

DL: Pedro Bell, Gary Panter, Sigmar Polke, Harvey Kurtzman, Jim Shaw, and Mike Kelley were a few of my favorites growing up. I loved the Smurfs, Ren and Stimpy, and Thundercats.

OPP:  You often use the form of the tondo, a large round painting historically used for religious subject matter. Could you talk about this formal choice, either in general or in relation to a specific piece?

DL: I don’t shy away from any subject. I cover religion a lot. Tondos are interesting. They are a part of art history, and I like using that reference in my work. In Uncle John, I’m making a memorial to all the Johns of the art world. The idea of a gold leaf tondo with just the name John referenced Christianity even though that wasn’t my intent. Working with more than one meaning is one of the many things I use in my work.
Unforgivable Blackness
acrylic on canvas

OPP: Many of the tondos also feature recognizable figures from pop culture, as in Silver Dechanel (2010) or Rick Rossing It (2010). What about in a piece like Chocolate Rainbow Connection (2010), which features Kermit the Frog? Are there religious connotations here?

DL: I don't think of them having that meaning, but I'm aware that some viewers have taken that from the work. I like things being open for the viewer.

OPP: My favorite thing about your work is the way the tone continually moves back and forth between the sweet and the profane. I see this especially in the recurring motifs of boobs and balls on heads and scoops of ice cream. Does this resonate with your interests?

DL: Yes it does. There are many thoughts and ideas that go through my mind when I make work. My personality is very much a part of my work. I have a dark sense of humor, and it comes out often in the things I do. I also bounce back to being more practical at times and that also reflects. I feel everyone has the same way of thinking to an extent.
How to get to Grape Street
Blog drawing

OPP: You currently have an exhibition at Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago called Coco River Fudge Street, which consists of 152 drawings from your blog of the same name. How are the blog drawings different from other drawings? Has the digital form of the blog affected your analog work?

DL: The only real difference is the time. I have very limited time to work on the blog drawings. I’m always trying to beat the clock. I also find myself making things I might not have if I didn’t have to produce a drawing a day for the blog. It was a fun challenge.

It made me keep things simple. Certain things wouldn’t work on a blog. Colors and textures wouldn’t show up as clear due to my using a scanner. This changed the direction I originally had for the blog. I wanted to do all paintings which is nuts.

OPP: Tell us about your process.

DL: There isn't really a process to the blog drawings. It's whatever comes to mind within that day. I will use whatever trials I have, but I try to keep it simple so I'm not spending the entire day on one thing. That is the opposite of my other paintings and drawings. I have materials and subject matter planned ahead of time. I'll also gather source materials.

Old Negro

OPP: Will the blog keep going now that you’ve had the show?

DL: I was thinking about doing a fan appreciation month in the near future. As for another entire year of blog drawings, I don't have it in me. It's a lot of work, and I would like to travel. You have to stay put when you are doing a daily drawing blog.

OPP: What were your drawings like as a child?

DL: It was all pen and ink. I wasn’t a huge fan of color back then. I would go through hundreds of sheets of typing paper to draw on. I would draw my favorite comic characters and cartoons. I later realized I was good at making caricatures of kids I didn’t like in school. It’s funny how things never change.
To view more of David Leggett’s work, please visit davidleggettart.com.