Featured Artist: Brian Leo

 Photo courtesy of Cindy Maram of Digin Magazine

Photo courtesy of Cindy Maram of Digin Magazine

Brian Leo creates small-scale paintings that pack a visual punch. Using bright colors reminiscent of Warhol’s palette, Brian explores the socio-political, and the public and private spheres with an air of satire and humor. The commercial world offers this artist an endless source of inspiration as logos, media clips, memes, and the like often find their way into his compositions.

Brian produces a large number of works per year—last year alone he created about 90 pieces for an exhibition—but every year two to three images become iconic for him. Halfway through 2016, Brian identifies an image featuring three asian children with aggressively tangled brushstrokes in place of their lower limbs as one that has preoccupied him this year. The children are taken from a YouTube clip of the 2016 Oscar ceremony, in which comedian-actor and Oscar host, Chris Rock, used three Asian-American kids as props to illustrate his joke regarding Asian stereotypes. 

When Brian appropriates an image it’s one that already expresses, to some extent, what he wants to say. He enjoys taking something recognizable and “freshening” it up. His paintings of the Asian children feature a fluorescent pink background, the bright color off-setting the context of the work. The “gestural pseudo-Franz Kline thing” that replaces the children’s lower-halves represent what the artist imagines is their emotional and psychological trauma.

Brian enjoys working in contradictions. To this end, unsettling or upsetting imagery is often portrayed with vivid colors, comical characters, and smiles where there should be expressions of anguish or fear. His compositions are typically exhibited in clusters that assault our visual senses. This snapshot of American life as filtered through Brian’s eyes grows with every passing year. The collection acts as a nonlinear record of notable social, political and personal instances in the artist’s life presented all at once. Aptly described as a “media blitz” by fellow artist and curator, Carly Ivan Garcia, Brian’s decision to show his compositions in large groups is influenced by his desire to create an experience in which the pieces are bouncing off of one other, visually and/or contextually.

“It’s social-political commentary not spoon fed. I want it to be free associative for the viewers so everyone can make their own interpretation and so it attracts different people. The works have different levels of meaning. Some of the work can be profound, or some is just on the surface. They’re public and private, social and political. There are personal things that others can relate to and I think your brain can go in all these places,” Brian explains.

The artist leaves his pieces intentionally open-ended to encourage discussion and allow viewers to come to their own conclusions. Sometimes the paintings resonate with people on an intensely personal level and at other times Brian’s intent is misunderstood, but he welcomes it all as part of the viewing experience.

“People can be offended by something, but as long as I know why I made it then the piece is done for me and justified. Free associations are welcome, and misinterpretations and new things. Sometimes I learn new things from people and add that to the piece. So, I usually like to talk to people about the work when I’m hanging out at the space,” he adds.

Brian Leo’s work will be featured in The Midway Gallery’s upcoming July show, LIVEWIRE. Be sure to join us and the artists on opening night, Friday July 15th from 6pm to 10pm. LIVEWIRE will be on view until August 27th.


To learn more about Brian Leo please visit:

Images provided by the artist


Written By: Vanessa Wilson