“I have collaborated on two 1xrun prints and I wanted to share images and article on my newest project. It’s a 15′ x 22′ oil painting and participatory installation at SOMArts in San Francisco. The piece is a meditation on relationships, and for me a meditation on my relationship with my father, and my friend Blue, a homeless street musician. These images below were taken Shaun Roberts and you can read more in this recent San Francisco Guardian article by Mia Sullivan.” – Hugh Leeman
1xRun Thru Interview
Love & Luck by Hugh Leeman
1xRun: This piece was a part of your recent show in San Francisco, tell us a bit about the installation and how this piece played into the show as a whole?
Hugh Leeman: My friend Blue lives in the alley near my studio and we have collaborated on numerous projects before. He stops by my studio and we hang out often. Over the years he has told me stories of this hawk that lives in the alley and swoops down and grabs rats and pigeons from the alley, eating them on the building ledges above. The stories have always left a great impression on me. In no small part due to the candid nature in which he tells them. I always wondered if the manner in which these stories were conveyed was because Blue saw himself as the hawk or more likely the rat. Then one night he came and got me and said I should see this baby hawk he was raising with his wife Sam. I went into the alley and sure enough under the pile of construction lumber that Sam and Blue were sleeping beneath was the baby hawk that had been kicked out of the nest. Sam would have the baby hawk dig its little baby hawk claws into her hand and she would wave her hand up and down allowing the baby to flex and exercise its wings as she did so. I took a picture of this.
Days later I was alone looking at this picture and I saw myself first as the photographer, then I thought of my relationship with others over the years and wondered if the profound emotional reaction I was having to this photo was that I saw myself as Sam. Then I thought I was neither the photographer who took the photo I was looking at, nor Sam, but that I was the baby hawk kicked out of the metaphorical nest. And I loved Sam as the maternal figure, richly enlivened by the birds progress. I loved Blue for coming to share the moment with me in the middle of the night and the alley for being the psychological setting of this realization that seemed at once vulnerable, beautiful and insecure. Subsequent to all of this after the show I asked Blue how he felt about the installation I had created on our relationship, his first words in that raspy tone I have come to associate with his bluesy singing voice were, “Sometimes I feel like the rat.”
1xRun: Tell us a little bit about this piece that this print is from and the installation…
Hugh Leeman: Originally the hawk was painted on a wall as part of an interactive installation, swooping down ready to grab an unsuspecting rat. The original piece was an 15’ x 22’ foot mural with 360 pounds of salt poured on the floor. Two separate sets were created in front of this mural atop the salt. One set was a contemporary and domesticated piece that incorporated a sleek, leather and wood high top stool along with a magazine holder and side table. The other set was a hand painted black on black tent with black tennis shoes at the front of its closed entrance.
1xRUN: What materials were used to create this piece ?
Hugh Leeman: I used thinned out oil and spray paint. This piece was made with emotion. It is movement and dance. Simply me moving, dancing and acting out my emotions. The mediums are just a way to leave a trace of self behind with the aim of having others see themselves in it and elements of who they are.
1xRun: When was the piece created?
Hugh Leeman: It was painted on a wall in the spring time. The idea came to me shortly before while in the darkness of my bathtub. I was taking a moment to close my eyes, breathe and be quiet. However, I’m not very good at thinking of nothing because ideas like this one come to me and interrupt that process.
1xRun: Tell us how the idea and execution came about?
Hugh Leeman: It has been an on going matter of looking to see whether the chicken or the egg came first. It also has been a matter of destroying who I thought I was, my art, my ideas and my patterns. My work has changed in its appearance, but that is, perhaps a minor detail when it comes to the idea and what the feel is. The feel is I’m naked, I’m dancing, I’m alone and at times and I’m not even here. I love this! I want to be a better communicator, to dance and love better, to be a better friend and better to myself.
Originally I was asked to create an installation based on the idea of participation and community. Over the 7 or 8 months in between agreeing to do this piece and its actual creation the idea and feeling changed a few times. Each time that change occurred it was quite dramatic. What I saw as the final incarnation was a meditation on my relationship with a good friend, art collaborator, and homeless street musician named Blue.
I had thought of the trials and complexities of our relationship over the years and my idea was to show how that relationship felt. However a week or so before the installation was to be created my father, who I hadn’t seen in years, texted me and said he was coming to San Francisco for a few days to visit. This of course was at the same time as the installation. I knew that I would not have time to create this piece and also visit with my father. It seemed to be a choice of one or the other. Amidst the darkness however an idea came to me. Since I was in the process of creating an installation on the trials, intensities, and complexities of my relationship with Blue, then there is no better person in the world to draw from these complexities than that of the relationship with my father.
And thus the idea was born to create a meditative installation about the complexities of the relationship I share with Blue and my father. They are both the same age and Blue has a son who is my age. The two relationships are very different, but they have both been wonderfully intense and trying in the sense that they have fostered growth.
1xRun: What is unique about this piece?
Hugh Leeman: There were moments while painting where I felt very strongly about the different parts and I was truly dancing while I painted. I felt no other way than what could be described as jubilation. As I looked at them later on I realized that the parts painted in jubilation amidst the movement of dance were the parts that looked the least of how I had wanted or envisioned them to look. They looked the least “real”. I believe I was the closest to painting nothing at those points. It was as if my jubilation had cast aside my respect of form and figure. I had not made it look the way I thought it would look, but I was painting with absolutely no one in the room, absent even myself. Once I realized all this, I was then back in the room and so was everyone else that had ever inspired or influenced who i thought I was or what I thought my ability was or was not.
Each print in this series will also be uniquely hand-embellished. I have been creating splatters and drips of paint that retrace the steps of my dance and movement as I paint, I’ve also been using a rubber squeegee to drag and smear paint. This paints alchemical reactions to movement and going from a wet state to a solid one are perhaps the most magical part of the art. The black on black, ancient text, backgrounds challenging subtlety speaks to the idea of interpretation of communication.
I have found that when communication in life exist on a profound level it is seldom on the surface, and may be entirely overlooked, but once noticed there is a longing for understanding and with this longing we project our own interpretations of reality, while these interpretations are subjected to our subconscious. “I dont know why I like it, I just do” becomes something more akin to I like it because it reminds me of myself. My childhood, my fear, and the challenging pain that comes with the trajectory of growth.
1xRun: Why should people buy this print?
Hugh Leeman: I don’t know what people should buy, myself included. I am in a transitional point and I feel wonderful. I also feel honesty and pain, as if my ego has been removed and I have started something akin to seeing oneself through all the projections I have spent years creating though was mostly unaware of. I feel wonderful about the opportunity that the guys have afforded me at 1xrun. Which of course is to communicate this idea and be part of communicating my art and of the transitive property of my life. It is healing to talk about things such as the relationship with my father or for that matter the plethora of intensely personal things we are all a part of. I realize having opportunities as such are often a part of buying in the marketplace. I have stopped reading the internet and have made many changes this year. If you are here now, thank you for listening. Thank you for allowing me to speak. I appreciate the potential there is in doing it again due to the many ways it may manifest itself and the part that may very well depend on people buying this print.
1xRun: Describe this print in one gut reaction word.
Hugh Leeman: Vulnerable.
1xRun: Your first two RUNs with us were collaborative with Eddie Colla and David Young V, who are some of your other favorite San Francisco artists right now?
Hugh Leeman: Akira Beard is an incredible painter and beautifully complex person who challenges me on the notion of life and what it means to be an artist. David Lee has long inspired me. His work was the first show I saw in San Francisco and it moved me. The stories of his personal evolution inspire me as a person now more than his art ever did.
1xRun: What are some of the things you like about both collaborative work as well as your solo work respectively?
Hugh Leeman: I have come to think of it all as a collaboration. I suppose the art of communication must be because it is this essence that defines communication. The work I’ve done in the past that I view as my own has been borrowed visually from other artists. The work from my head that involves insecurities and vulnerabilities has been borrowed from my own memory and the memories of others.
Whatever the painting is of is a page from my diary based on the past experiences I’ve had that were inevitably with others. I suppose the beauty of art is that it is open to misinterpretation and that is wonderful. I could be commenting on something deeply personal or insecure and a viewer sees themselves in it. There is perhaps no person in the world more important to each of us then the “I” in all of us. Therefore, leaving the ideas to the viewer is of profoundly important. Instead of saying this is A B C D E F G, we can speak to the idea that this is from the platform of A,D, and G. The rest is for you to operate on based on your own personal beliefs and ideas.
1xRun: Bring us up to speed on what you else you have been up to so far in 2013?
Hugh Leeman: I have come to the conclusion that we are always going through a door. From one room to the next we go and upon entering these new rooms we are in a constant state of anxiety wondering who we are or how we should be amidst the inhabitants and ideas of these new rooms. Who we want to be and what we want are an absurd notion that creates suffering as, what I want can not be, for I am not sure firstly who I am. How can I know what I want or how I want to be if I don’t know who I am? Therefore, I have begun thinking that it is most efficient to find ones self through examining insecurities and vulnerabilities.
These are the most intimate parts of who we really are. Instead of covering these, hiding these and creating projections to mislead others and myself I should examine these things and communicate them because no one in the world knows better the insecurities and vulnerabilities than ourselves. Vulnerabilities and insecurities are the essence of us, they are our uniqueness and we all have them. They tie us together and make us all human. Therefore I have come to realize that my art is about communicating and I might as well communicate on that which I know best and most intimately. It will be a part of self discovery and healing, but also it is what is in the dark corners of all of our minds, but very seldom communicated. This lack of communication on these things, if only with myself, has created so much, if not solely the miscommunications and suffering in my life, the facade, insincere and shallow.