Written by Rene Ricardo Bernal.
As part of the 2017 edition of the MURAL Festival, Kevin Ledo, a Montreal celebrity in his own right, created a colossal portrait of Leonard Cohen that made headlines all over the world. As an established contemporary artist, Kevin has traveled the World for mural creation and gallery shows.
We met up with the artist in his studio, located above the Livart Gallery in Montreal. We got the chance to talk career path, inspiration and his take on mixing traditional and urban art styles.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and when your journey as an artist began?
From a very young age, I’ve always had an interest in art, starting with Bob Ross’ style paintings at 12 years old. I always knew I wanted to explore my interest in art. Later on, I studied Illustration Design at Dawson College. After graduation, I did various odd jobs while painting part-time until I moved to Taiwan to teach English. This is when I decided to focus on fine art and worked to have my art showcased in galleries. Then, in 2004, I moved back to Vancouver to paint canvas. After a year in Canada, I moved back to Montreal to continue working in fine art until it became my full-time profession in 2009.
I only began doing murals 5 years ago. Following a disappointing show in Vancouver, I moved to Central America for 7 months which is where I painted my first mural at a friend’s restaurant. This opened the door for another two mural projects. As soon as I finished them, opportunities came knocking and it eventually led me to Sao Paulo for a graffiti jam. Before I knew it, I had completed 6 murals in a span of six weeks.
What artist are you inspired by?
I’m influenced and inspired by many artists, but most of the inspiration comes from art movements or different periods of art.
The symbolism and gold colours of Christian iconography and religious iconography in general has been a great deal of inspiration to me.
I’m inspired with the period of analytical cubism by Braque and Picasso with the breaking of form, its earthy tones and the composition of shattered images.
Another influence would be Chuck Close and his hyperrealism.
But most especially Alphonse Mucha, the Art Nouveau illustrator, has been a great influence in my work. There’s a lot of geometry and organic flow that I simplify in vector lines. I can say he was definitely a launching board for me and is the main inspiration for my own work.
Your art is a cross between photorealistic human portraits and geometric abstraction. How did that concept come to life?
Geometric abstraction is more vague and I like putting it together with the expressive emotions of portraits. I find it a good way to outline ideas that I’m still figuring out, without giving away the specifics. I like the idea that shapes can represent things that aren’t understood by the public. I’ve always had a great interest in psychology and metaphysics, I see us learning as a species. I’d say it’s a nod to the idea that there’s more to us than we think.
Can you tell us a bit more about your artistic process and the different steps you go through when creating artworks?
It depends on the type of work I’m doing. With murals, it has a lot to do about where they are painted and who the audience is. With portraits, I want to know about the history and I try to pick somebody local or someone who represents the surroundings. I try to bring a socio-political angle to my work, as a celebration of multiculturalism and diversity.
In studio, I mostly go on feeling. My first series of work was based on Christian iconography but instead of saints, I used fashion models. That first series had a purpose, but since then I’ve been going on feeling and what my current interests are.
Your work has allowed you to travel a lot how do different cultures shape your work? Do you always try to portray people in their 'natural element’?
I don’t have strict rules on who I portray in each place that I visit, but I do try my best to paint somebody local. To me, it’s more about the energy of each piece as well as doing something that is relatable to the audience. Especially since, when I leave, they will be living with the work.
What’s next? Are there any projects you're working on right that you could tell us about?
At the end of November, I plan on going to Miami for Art Basel and I’m also in the midst of discussions for other potential projects. But Mostly during the winter, I stay in Montreal to paint in my studio. I’ve recently started a side project where I explore abstract impressionism. I’ll be less concerned about portraits and focusing more on abstract, which in turn will end up influencing my main work.