The Kids’ Eye: An Interview with Drew Leshko

The Kids’ Eye is our new series where creative kids interview artists whose work they admire.

We prep — give them tips on proper interviewing etiquette, arm them with a camera and a recorder and then we let them loose.

We’re only there to observe.  The questions are theirs, the interviews haven’t been rewritten to sound like anything other than the probing  journalism of a tween.

Tatianna is 13.  Last summer she stumbled across Philadelphia artist, Drew Leshko’s miniatures at a gallery exhibition.  Her first thought, “Can this really be art?” We assured her it was; she marveled at the possibilities of new mediums she could explore.  Daily Googling marathons turn into allowance fueled trips to craft stores – all efforts to see if she could create her own miniature stories.  When that stopped being enough, we called up Leshko to see if he’d be up for a studio visit.

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Tatianna: So how long does a regular piece take you to do?
Drew Leshko: Well, if we’re talking about buildings, that’s a long process. They take me anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months, depending on the size of them. If we’re talking about other works, like the dumpsters – those are hard to quantify. They’re my relief when I’m spending two months working on a building, and it’s getting to the point where I want to rip my hair out because I can’t stand looking at them anymore. I take some time off and pull out a little sculpture because I can finish that relatively quickly.

I’ve talked to a lot of different artists and they like to do two pieces at once.
Totally, you have to.

Yeah, it just drives you insane if you don’t.
It keeps you moving at a reasonable rate if you’re trying to be productive, and I am.

Are all your sculptures like…Because I heard you do them from real places. Are they all in Philadelphia?
All the buildings are based on actual buildings in Philadelphia. I start with a photograph that I take and I work to get the main structure of the building. So I’ll get the photograph out and use it to generate all the important parts; like where the beam is, where the awning is going to plug into, where the basement entrance is. After I get the main bones of the building, I put the photograph away. I work off of memory at that point.
A lot of the work has that human element of memory. I’m only trying to make buildings that don’t have that much longer to live because once they’re gone
… They’re gone.

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Did you want to do sculptures of buildings when you first started out as an artist?
No, I made sculptures of water towers — a lot of them. I was making sculptures to become the subjects of photographs I was taking. So, in a gallery setting, there would be both photographs and sculptures.

The idea was to ask the viewer what was going on, essentially — Which came first? Is it a photograph that he’s recreating, or is it a photograph of something that he’s built?

So how did that lead you into buildings?
I moved here (Philadelphia) in 2007 and the environment really informed my work. I think many artists would say that. If you live in the Hudson Valley in Upstate New York, you might be painting trees and fall scenes with the changing leaves.

Yeah… Philadelphia is just full of art. It’s everywhere you look, from graffiti on. Street art is just everywhere.
So, a lot of it came from my environment. A lot of it came from older artwork projects that I admire. Walker Evans, I always speak about him. He was commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt to document life in the United States after the depression. He went around photographing all these down and out families in the South. He was photographing churches and creating essentially an archive of what was. It’s something real, you and I could go to the Library of Congress now and look at the slides and see portals into life. So, I can’t take photographs, I’m no good at that. I can’t paint…

I think I’m good at a little bit of everything. I can paint really well, I can draw really well, and I can take good photos.
(What you hear now is the ego of a 12-year-old, bearing the confidence that I wish I’d had at that age. Drew is being very patient. Wait, there’s more…)

I think I was born with an artistic side.
You could make a lot of money with those skills.

I think what I was saying; was in the same way that Walker Evans was trying to really capture a feeling and a time period in his project; I’m thinking about my work in the same kind of way.
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Well, if you had to do something different than building your sculptures and your dumpster and your RVs and your water towers, what would you think your options would be?
That’s a tough one.

I am tough – I like it. I want to know everything.
I don’t know if I can answer that. The campers are relatively new for me, I’ve only been working on them for about 2 months. I still have a lot to see through with this project. I plan on having 40 of them.

40? (Astonished)
Not to all be installed at the same place, at the same time.
I’m really interested in artists that pursue serious works, not like an artist that has four paintings and that’s his series – that’s not for me. I want to go over the top until people think it’s totally nuts.

The signs that you put on your buildings, do you copy them and just cut and paste them on?
Some of them I just Google. Most of the time I photograph them on the street, resize them in Photoshop and then I print them out.

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Have you ever thought about teaming up with another artist?
I thought about it, and a lot of people have approached me.

It would be cool if you got that girl who does the Urban Geodes, you know, to put miniature geodes in the bricks of your buildings.
Oh, you mean Paige.
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So what is your favorite piece to create? Is it the buildings, the water towers, the dumpsters or the campers?
I’m really in love with the RV’s right now.

Yeah, they’re neat, I really like them. Have you ever thought about making cars?
I’ve thought about doing some vehicles, but my work is mainly about the temporary relationships we have with things

Like things that aren’t going to be here in 10 or 20 years.
Right. So the buildings…It’s really obvious that they’re not going to be here after a while. For the campers’, maybe the thing that’s not going to be there is their natural environment – like the destinations that you’re traveling to. I think things are shifting in our culture, our ideas about leisure activities.

When I was growing up, my parents had a really crummy Motorhome, and my grandparents had one of these pull behind trailers. We would drive from Baltimore (where I was born) two hours away to the middle of nowhere in Maryland. And we would go to the campgrounds and spend the weekend there. It’s something that I really look back on fondly. It’s a feeling of nostalgia… I think that it’s something people aren’t doing anymore for whatever reason. There’s definitely a new resurgence of camping. There are designer camping shops popping up, but still as a culture, I think something has shifted. I don’t know if I’m right, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about while doing this work.
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Is it hard working at home? You have a TV down here and the studio space is next to the kitchen – do you get distracted? Do you have any hobbies?
I like to ride bikes but haven’t been able to get around doing that lately.

Anything else? Like learning a new language? You should learn a new language because you’ll need it to open new doors.
You’re right. I should learn German – I’m showing a piece in Berlin soon.

I’m going to learn French. And then I’ll take a trip to Paris.

 

Leskho’s current exhibition Home Is Where Your Park It opens February 26, 2016

Opening Reception
Friday, February 26th • 5:30pm – 10:00pm

Closing Reception
Friday, March 25th • 5:30pm – 10:00pm

Exhibition Hours
Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays • 12:00pm – 6:00pm
And 7 days a week by appointment: info@paradigm-gallery.com / (267)266-0073

Location
Paradigm Gallery + Studio / 746 S. 4th Street, 1st Floor / Philadelphia, PA 19147

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Kids Eye: Tatianna

We’re reintroducing our series ‘Kids Eye’, where we spend time hanging out with an Art-tastic kid. Here’s a look back at our very first art kid interview…

A while ago I came up with an idea to spend time observing an art-tastic kid in their environment.  Can I experience art again through the eyes of a child?  In the process, can I introduce them to something new?  I’ll talk to them about their interests, and maybe even convince them to take a field trip with me. The goal is to learn from one another.  

All I had to do is borrow someone’s kid, not as easy as it seems – but I got one.

Tatianna lives in Pittsburgh, PA and started second grade this past September.  Due to the short attention span of the little one, I broke my visit up into two days. This is our mini story.

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Day One:

Tatianna invites me into a small studio space that she shares with her grandmother. Her side of the space is filled with colorful paper lanterns, tiny chairs, and an easel.  Various ceramic pots lace makeshift shelving, filled with paints, brushes, scraps of paper, ribbon, pipe cleaners, and other found objects. Paint splattered tutu’s and shirts hang from pegs above her easel.

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Thank you for letting me come watch you paint.

You’re welcome; I like company when I paint.

Tatianna, how old are you?

I’m Seven.

And have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?

Art Teacher.

That’s cool. When I was in school I always looked forward to art class. Do you have a favorite artist?

Yup, the Illustrator from the Pinkalicious books, Victoria Khan.

I’m impressed that you know illustrator’s name.

My grandmother always tells me the name of the writer and illustrator before she reads.

I see. I notice you have the radio on. Do you always paint to music?

Sometimes…I wanted to paint today because I saw that movie Frida Halo. It inspired me.

Oh, you mean Frida Kahlo.

That’s what I said.

Sorry. So how does it make you feel when you paint?

I feel great, it gives me a chance to enjoy myself and let myself go. I can make whatever I feel, I mean the feeling is so good. Though some days I get upset when I feel my art isn’t coming out very good.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I’m learning to skateboard. It’s a mini one, but when I get older I’ll get a big kid one.

I was wondering if you’d like to go to a museum with me tomorrow.

Dinosaurs…?

Art.

That would be alright.

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Day Two

Tatianna and I hop a train bound for New York City. We’re going to visit the Museum of Modern Art.  I finally had a kid with me; a pretty good excuse to check out the museums kids space – The Shape Lab.

Tell me, what do you enjoy about museums?

It’s exciting to be around things that are created by other people. I really like children’s museums because you can touch stuff.

Once we arrived at MOMA I got excited; she got excited.  As it turns out, there were very different reasons for our glee – Tatianna had never been through a revolving door before. Five revolutions later and we were ready to take on the Shape Lab.  She immediately makes a beeline toward the 3D shape magnetic wall.  The wall is broken down into four different stations where kids can explore how shapes are used in art. There are activity cards hanging next to each station, so I challenge her to finish all the activities listed.

 

After the Lab we go to some of the recommended kid spots:

This painting is titled One.  It was done by an artist named, Jackson Pollack.

Hey, he copied my style.

What do you think about this one, it’s called Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian? 

It’s making my eyes bleed together.

That’s about the time that Tatianna suggested that we walk through the permanent collection and rename pieces.  So we did, along with several guards.  

After about thirty mintues of renaming we were tired and hungry, so we decided to call it a day. But not before Tatianna recorded a message for the lovely MoMA employee, Kristen who’d been friendly to her during her stay at the Shape Lab.

You can see that and other video clips from our weekend with this link to our Vimeo account.