Featured Artist interview with painter and mixed media artist Paul Leibow – February 2019
How did you get started in art?
My father was an artist, illustrator and graphic designer, but my mom first enrolled me in local art classes. I remember at around age 5 my mom dropped me off in this college girl’s basement to paint and make small crafts people out of corks.
Did you always know you were going to be an artist?
I remember I wanted to be an architect. I was told you need to learn how to make blue-prints and learn engineering and so on… the whole thing became too overwhelming for my young dyslexic brain. I rebelled and landed in the arts.
Who was your most influential teacher?
There were many. At Dwight Morrow high school, my art teacher, Bob Selner, and my photography teacher, Jack Surran. Later, I studied at the School of Visual Arts and had several great instructors: Sam Martine in drawing, and Jack Potter in life drawing. The most influential was Marshal Arisman, the chair of the art and illustration department. He was the one who said I should not focus so much in illustration and head downtown to show my work in galleries. Soon after, I was showing in SoHo in the 1980’s.
I also have to honor Milton Glaser, who allowed me into his over-filled class. His class was amazing, because graphic design is about everything else than what I had thought design was, mostly psychology.
Do you have a personal philosophy that you express through your art?
I make connections around why something is meaningful and provocative, because in the end, it’s all about the experience. How someone perceives your intent viewing it, sort of finishes the work ultimately.
What is the most challenging part of being an artist?
EVERYTHING. When you start to take it more seriously, it becomes an impossible way of life in many ways. However without it, I feel empty.
I would not have it any other way at this point. When you know you can draw, paint and pretty much make anything, it’s sad to waste that. I was classically trained in drawing and painting at one of the best schools in the country. Yet I felt I had to un-learn mostly everything and start over from scratch to find a singular voice, something different with a unique vocabulary and authentic alphabet, which feels realistic to my true aesthetic.
You do need an insane belief in yourself even if no one else does. Never give up…you have to be one of these strange people that can suffer through rejection on some level.
What is your favorite medium, and why?
Mixed media, love mixing it up with what works best… the use of house paint, charcoal, lots of black. I was warned back in school not to use black, just mix hues to get that color. But I love black right out of the can, just as it is, holds more color for me then most primary colors.
What are you working on currently?
Very graphic elements. I’m in the middle of a few series with repurposed characters derived from abstracting vintage cartoons while paring them down from ideas around the #MeToo movement, and the human flow of immigration. No one really creates in a vacuum.
Also, photographer James Leynse and I are exhibiting together in a two person show Red Carpet Hides Beneath Our Desires opening March 9th at the Edward Williams Gallery, Fairleigh Dickinson University.
What inspires you, or where do you find inspiration to make your art?
Activism. I notice too much. Many things capture my attention. I feel it is important not only to be aware of other artists work, past and present, but to be open to all things, to see ideas around Instagram, movies, museum shows, fake news, real news, and no news. I’m interested in the psychology of advertising and the imagery utilized, slogans, music and a mashed together assortment of ideas from books and newspapers, things deriving truth — all culminate to inform my intention.
You are an artist and a surfer. If you had to choose between spending a day surfing or starting a new art project, which would you choose and why?
Well that all depends on the waves, time of high tide, which way the winds are blowing. But surfing is best at dawn, so fortunately I can do both. Even when I surf late in the day, while we are all waiting for the last set, gently floating in the swells, watching the red sun dipping low, my mind wonders to pieces I am working on or want to do next. Searching for those illusive ideas that could marvel, creating something new.