Interview | David Leggett
Drawing influence from both art history and popular culture, David Leggett, often mixing paint with crafting materials, makes paintings that confront race, sexuality, and class in humorous and ambiguous situations. In March 2010, he had his first solo exhibition, Up for the Down Stroke, at 65GRAND in Chicago, IL. The exhibition consisted of many smaller works on canvas as well as two large paintings — portraits of rapper, Rick Ross and singer, Beth Ditto. One of the highlights was a smaller piece, Colgate Smile, in which the artist depicts a black face, constructed out of felt and googly eyes on a round light blue canvas. Below the face, written with a paint stick, reads “thanks Bono”. Leggett’s subject matter, however, is not just limited to celebrities. Often inserting himself as a character, he appears breathing fire on Snow White, covered in “purple stuff” and wearing a crown with his shirt off.
Born in Massachusetts and currently living in Chicago, Leggett received his Masters Degree from the School of the Art Institute in 2007 and recently attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Black Visual Archive: When I look at your work I often find my self thinking about your materials, mainly your use of googly eyes and felt. It brings back memories of crafting as a child. What attracts you to these materials?
David Legget: I started using those materials due to my distrust in painting. I thought there were other ways to problem solve in my own work. In my past work, I would just fill in areas without giving much thought, but when I started to add glitter, felt, wiggle eyes and other materials it made think about how much information was needed. It also made me slow down. I think when you use them, materials can easily look like junk if you don’t take the time and think about the placement.
BVA: Cartoons proliferate a lot of the work, particularly Disney characters and historical caricatures. When did you begin using cartoons in your work?
DL: I’ve always used cartoons in my work. I wanted to be comic book artist when I was a kid. My BFA is in illustration. I studied illustrators that I adored all through high school. I think it also stems from going to Catholic school as a child, where we watched Disney cartoons a lot in class, and it stuck with me. I love classic animation. I’m making a flash animation right now. It seemed to be the next logical step.
BVA: I have read that you have cited the Chicago Imagists as an influence. Could you talk about the impact they have made on your practice?
DL: I moved to Chicago in 2003, after I graduated from undergrad, in hopes of meeting the Hairy Who. I took a painting class with Karl Wirsum at SAIC, and he was very helpful and supportive. He helped me trim the fat out of my work. I think I had such romantic ideas when it came to painting. Karl favored my smaller less painterly work. He seemed to always have such valuable information to give. I worked with other imagists in graduate school, but never got to work with Jim Nutt, who stopped advising once I had started school. I just loved their style — they took comic books, popular culture and outsider art and made it their own. They seemed like they could care less what was going on in New York at the time. I’ve always had a soft spot for the idiosyncratic. Since moving here, I’ve learned much more about the Chicago Imagists. Chicago has such a rich art history.
BVA: In your exhibition, Up for the Down Stroke at 65 Grand, your paintings mix popular culture with personal narrative. How often are you inserted into your paintings?
DL: I think I put myself in my work a little too often. I use myself as a stand-in, an everyman, if you will. I started doing so because I grew tired of people asking who the person in my work was, if it wasn’t me. It cuts down on questions that I have no desire to answer. It’s fun to paint myself in such horrible roles, and I’m never sure what people think about me because of it. When you think about it, all artwork is a self portrait.
BVA: What are you currently working on?
DL: I’m working a sculpture for a group show in January at Western Exhibitions. I haven’t made much sculpture but I think it’s a great challenge. I’m also working on a daily blog where I’ll post terrible drawings and random junk for people to view.
Left: King Pleasure (2010), acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, Courtesy of the artist
Right: Give my Chest Hairs a Perm (2010) acrylic, felt, googly eyes, and photocopy transfer on linen, Courtesy of the artist