Monday, April 27, 2009

Art Space Talk: LeRoy Howard (Part 1)

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, LeRoy Howard is a fine-art photographer, based in Berkeley, California. LeRoy photographs himself, nude, with Japanese dance masks, fans and other cultural artifacts. He constructs in-camera multiple exposures into dreamlike or psychological narratives, improvising within unfinished construction and various rooms in his home.

Since 2002 he has shown his work in Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Kobe and Sakai, Japan. His recent work explores the uses of narrative and the personal experience within the built space in defining the self.

St. Sebastian, No. 5 by LeRoy Howard

Brian Sherwin: LeRoy, you were selected for representation at the NYAXE Gallery in Palo Alto, CA. As you know, NYAXE Gallery is operated by the founders of and and serves as a way to bridge the online and physical art world. Why did you decide to submit your work for consideration?

LeRoy Howard: While I have been fairly successful in getting my work into juried shows around the country and in Japan I hadn’t been paying attention to the Bay Area gallery scene. The NYAXE Gallery looked like a great opportunity to get to know a new gallery in the Bay Area. Additionally, I liked the idea of the connection between the web-based networking site and a physical gallery. It also appealed to that perverse part of my nature.

For some time now bricks-and-mortar shops and galleries have been putting up web-sites to help expand their reach and promote their efforts. In this case I saw a web-based enterprise setting up a physical gallery to help expand their market reach. I admire an operation that looks at all possible avenues to reach their market and expand their consumer base.

Lastly, I have enjoyed the web-site a great deal, met many artists and engaged in some interesting conversations about our art. This chance to talk to other artists is something hard to come by. I work by myself in my studio and don’t get out much. So I felt good about the NYAXE gallery invitation.

St. Sebastian, No. 2 by LeRoy Howard

BS: What can you tell us about your academic background concerning art? Did you study art formally? Tell us about your art studies in general-- any influential instructors?

LH: I have minimal formal training in art, nor have I and received an BFA or MFA. In my early years I studied design at a pre-architecture curriculum at Texas A&M University before taking a year to study art at the University of Houston. I did not complete the program and eventually moved to Alaska where I took up with a 35mm Pentax and began teaching myself how to photograph the landscape and small towns of Southeast Alaska.

I devoured books and magazines and more or less taught myself the rudiments of photography. At that time I’m sure I was influenced by Ansel Adams, given the nature of scenery in Alaska. Yet I’m sure I was studying other artists as I have strong memories of photographing the small towns, and playing with the odd effects one gets from industrial light sources.

Years later, in 1991, I moved to Japan and began studying with a number of professional photographers, most notably Tim Porter who runs the Tokyo Photo Workshops. He is a rigorous photographer who knows just about everything there is to know about the craft and technology of photography.

After settling in the Bay Area in 2001 I took a number of workshops from well-known Bay-Area photographers such as Judy Dater and Frank Espada.

BS: Tell us about yourself. At what point did you gain an interest in creating visual art?

LH: I suppose I began to challenge myself when I lived in Alaska, but it wasn’t until I began taking workshops in Japan that I began to explore the idea of creating imagery and building meaning, moving beyond the basic idea of reportage, landscape and street photography.

Since 1991 I have been pushing myself to develop a multi-layered sense of meaning and it seems that I am beginning to think more like an artist who uses photographic technology rather than a photographer who captures a scene imbued with meaning. At the heart of my work is the desire to communicate with the larger culture through the meaning created in my images. Kneeling Maiden by LeRoy Howard

BS: Can you tell us about your art? Give us some insight into the thoughts behind your art.

LH: I have developed a certain technique in creating meaning in my work, which is that I photograph myself, usually nude, and sometimes with Japanese dance masks, native American tribal masks, and other artifacts. This comes from my deep awareness and fascination with the idea that our being, or our identity, is separate from our bodies.

Our sense of self is independent of the physical and this understanding has allowed me to put myself within the work without feeling that the work is about me. I see myself more as an actor or technician helping to stage the work and less as the director, though I set the thing in motion. Since I am in front of the lens when the image is taken, I really have this sense that I am a participant in a larger process.

I give a lot of thought to what the body is doing in the image and what is communicated to the viewer. I understand the iconic value and what may be communicated by various poses and attitudes the body can take. Initially I borrowed easily found poses like that of kneeling in prayer or contemplation to the cruciform pose, knowing that on a cultural level the meaning inherent in these poses would say something to the viewer. Even when the image wasn’t overtly religious.

I think this comes from an early exposure to renaissance art which almost totally is made up of religious imagery. And so I find many of the attitudes my body takes can be traced to religious imagery. Yet, I wanted to move beyond these easy targets and develop a repertoire of more natural poses that provided the foundation for including facial expression, which began as part of the process with this current project.

I’m calling my current body of work, “The Last Supper Project.” Following a year of taking classes at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, one of which was an Art and Religion class I came up with the initial idea of conducting a theological exploration by re-presenting Leonardo’s Last Supper. I divided the picture into five images and posed myself, nude in all the roles.

What I found when I looked at the work was a strong representation of outpouring emotion, in this case male expression. Reflecting that this work was based on a narrative that dealt with betrayal, loss and grief I saw the opportunity to explore male emotional expression and communicate this to the viewer. The work that has come after is loosely based on iconic artwork, whether photographic, sculptural or painted, and inspired by the illness, decline and eventual loss of my father.

To read Part 2 of my interview with Leroy Howard click, HERE

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter

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