James Leonard, a Brooklyn, NY, based artist, participates in the Artists Interview Artists Project. Below James responds to another artist's five questions (Sky Pape from NYC). In order to participate, James had to provide me with five questions for some other artist to answer. The assigning of questions to artists is completely random. If you're an artist and interested in participating, let me know.
1. Have you ever destroyed your own work or had it destroyed by someone or something else? What were the circumstances and your thoughts about it?
Yes. I've been at this art thing for over half my lifetime now. Over 15 years, you tend to build up a lot of stuff and can't save or even give it all away. Destroying very early works, such as those from when I was 18, has at times been liberating. But usually, it's just been practical and left me feeling completely and utterly indifferent to the past. On a different note, some of my earlier installations essentially ceased to exist once deinstalled. Leaving these left me feeling sad--not heart broken, mind you, but mildly sorrowful.
2. Do you tend to relate more strongly to abstraction or to more literal representation (e.g. realism), and do you feel there is a qualitative difference between the two? Has your preference ever shifted? Has it ever come to blows?
Hrm. I find this to be of those wildly misleading dichotomies--like the longstanding desire to separate mind from body in Western philosophy. Instead, as a person with a strong haptic sensibility, I tend to differentiate between the actual and the virtual: facade versus history, illusory versus functional, Disney versus NASA. Looked at under a different set of criteria, someone like Donald Judd becomes more of a "realist" than Rembrandt. I don't make that remark to champion one school of art over another, but rather to point out how quickly the dichotomy of abstraction vs. representation can break down. But to get back to your questions, I am thoroughly disturbed and annoyed by the abundance of cheap facades in our culture today: the mcMansions, the PT Cruisers, the overwhelming amount of political spin and outright lies. The "actual" tends to resonate deeply with me. When I produce a work, it is important that it function. A postcard piece is actually a postcard made en masse. A rabbit trap is armed and ready to snare. My mother's dutch applie pie need be made by her hands for me to call it so. Miniature barbed wire I am currently manufacturing needs to snag and tear just like the normal sized stuff. And I have the wounds to prove that it does! The warbonds pictured here are actual security documents with all the special features often found only on stock certificates, municipal bonds, and currency notes. It's all about precision, detail, and thoroughness. Though much of my work probably falls somewhere in the realm of post-pop conceptualism, it is all deeply infected by the material integrity demonstrated by the first wave of minimalists and earth artists.
3. What gem of advice for the creative person has someone given you?
Hmm... there have been many seeds of wisdom that have sprouted over the years. Two of my favorites, from two different mentors: "Poetry is news that remains news--self updating information" -- this single spoken line has had a formative effect upon my approach to art over the past decade. The works that haunt a viewer and continue to generate meanings for months after a first encounter are the only works I find worth pursuing. These are poetic works and it is the only sort of art that carries an extended shelf life. "You seem to have become comfortable being uncomfortable" -- one of the kindest accidental accolades I have ever received. Now, when I find myself toiling and losing my way, I can meditate on these words and remember that I once found the strength to somehow live with a degree of discomfort and display faith that the path I am pursuing and the work I am laboring on will bear fruit in time.
4. What is your favorite reaction that anyone has ever had to your work? What was the most deflating?
At one opening, a viewer who confessed that they rarely went to art museums, much less gallery openings, expressed in their own words that they were "[of their 52 Fridays that year, they were glad they had spent one at my opening.]" It feels good to become a meaningful part of someone else's year. That is cultural participation. On the flip side, an idiot scientist and motorcycle fanatic who fancied himself a curator was having a private walk through a show of mine. Upon seeing one work that involves painted leather biker jackets, he began talking about American Chopper. He spouted, "Sure those American Chopper guys do great work, but the way they make money is through merchandise. See you should take this piece and turn it into T-Shirts. You could sell a lot of them at the bike festival in Sturgis." Though I didn't say it, my thoughts were clear, "You're an asshole."
5. If I asked you to tell me one place to go and one thing to do there, where and what would you suggest?
Wow. It's a big world and I've only seen a few corners of it. Should I tell you something that you'll likely never be near or even find? Should I tell you about the ghost town in South Dakota I once saw with the abandoned U.S. post office and that you should look for the broken picture window and the shattered U.S. postal logo? Or should I tell you about the hole-in-the-wall restaurant where my wife and I held our wedding reception that changed owners and menus just a year ago? Should I tell you to go back in time and order the asparagus pear salad off the specials chalkboard? Or what about a visit to the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland to watch the moon rise over the mountains from a chalet window during the off season? (Don't worry--it's a cheap place to visit during August!) How about I limit my suggestion to something a little less out of the way. Next time you are in Chicago, go to the Art Institute of Chicago. There is a room with a Hans Hoffman and a Joan Mitchell. In that same room is a tremendously large Clifford Still. It is mostly black and has a mountain range and canyon of paint running through the right hand vertical axis of the third. Sit on the bench in front of this painting and spend at least thirty minutes alone with it. You'll fall in love. I promise.
Juno Doran (questions by James W. Bailey)
Josh Feldman (questions by Joseph Barbaccia)
Lisa Stephenson (questions by Whitney Lynn)
Joseph Barbaccia (questions by Josh Feldman)
James W. Bailey (questions by Matt Hollis)
Matt Hollis (questions by Juno Doran)
Carol Es (questions by James Leonard)
Alexandra Silverthorne (questions by Ami Lahoff)
Christine Buckton Tillman (questions by Carol Es)
Douglas Witmer (questions by Alexandra Silverthorne)
Sky Pape (questions by Douglas Witmer)
Whitney Lynn (questions by Lisa Stephenson)
Heather Levy (questions by Joanne Greenbaum)
Heather Lowe (questions by Samantha Wolov)
Samantha Wolov (questions by Heather Levy)
Timothy McClellan (questions by Heather Lowe)