Meet an Artist is an ongoing series of Q&As with a diverse selection of eclectic and dynamic contemporary artists. This week it’s Leonard Greco, a painter and sculptor who channels a neo-baroque aesthetic in his epic mythological scenes and operatic characters, deploying art history in the service of analyzing experiences of life, sexuality and the visceral, thorny politics of our society.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
LEONARD GRECO: As a young boy, I fastidiously copied a dandelion growing in our weed-strewn yard; Albrecht Dürer was my spiritual guide, I was specifically influenced by his famous patch of grass. I knew then I wanted to grow up to be someone like Dürer, painstakingly dedicated and keenly observant.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
I haven’t yet come up with that answer; it seems an impossible task. I usually cite Jungian archetypal interest, my love of literature, myth-making and storytelling. But the truth is the work bubbles up and I respond by making it. I tend to avoid deep analysis of my work.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
That is a terrifying question. I suppose, if the stars were in line, an art historian.
Did you go to art school? Why/why not?
No. In my youth I was this insecure gay kid, at times homeless, alone and trying to figure out the basics of living. The idea of applying to school seemed impossibly daunting. What may seem so natural to the middle class was at that time of my life out of reach, particularly when I needed a roof over my head. This has been a lifelong regret but thankfully less so presently. I’ve begun to view my self-learning as a boon. Plus exploring NYC at such a young age, alone, in the ’80s, well, that was pretty grand.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
My husband is a psychoanalyst; his institute and private practice is here.
When was your first show?
Early ’80s. I had a boyfriend whose family summered in Maine. I met the owner of Leighton Gallery in Blue Hill and she gave me a solo show. I couldn’t believe it.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
I have a solo show called "Fairyland" opening Feb. 23, running through March 31 at MOAH:Cedar in Lancaster. I’m very excited about it; its making has been an illuminating and invigorating experience. It is a mixed-media collection, dedicated to my textile figures that I call “stuffed paintings,” many nearly life-sized, and studio paintings. It is a large and immersive show in which, among other themes, I examine traditional narratives of the Western canon such as the trials of the heroic Herakles, and the early church father St. Anthony bombarded by his desert temptations. I seek to explore how these themes are relevant today, as in what defines masculinity and queerness; how one survives, soul intact, in a world bombarded by the “temptations” of social media, of the dizzying news cycles and the unrelenting, rancorous chatter.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
Easy, Leonora Carrington, I wish she were an auntie.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
Oh yes, Hildegard von Bingen, early church music and plenty of audiobooks, mostly 19th-century novels that I haven’t the time to read properly.
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The opening reception for Fairyland is Feb. 23, 4-8 p.m., at MOAH:Cedar. The exhibition runs through March 31.