Meghan Hope LeClair interviews the artists who make up Chamber Made, Leon Loucheur of San Francisco and Michael Gallegos of Denver about their current show at Knew Conscious Gallery.
Megan: I’m aware that you met years ago here in Colorado. Can you tell me about that meeting, and how you developed your working relationship?
MG: I definitely stepped on Leon’s toes when we first met.
LL: Yeah. Ha! I knew of Mike from seeing his paintings around, but we had never met. I admired his work, but was a little sour about an event that had transpired: A friend of ours, Jim Stigall, and I painted a beautiful piece that we were really proud of. We spent all day working on it. Unbeknownst to Mike, he showed up ten minutes after we left and painted over it; so when we came back to get pictures, his painting was on top of ours. Then I pretty much hated his guts…until I actually met him. Once I was introduced to him, we became friends.
MG: That’s how all the good friendships start.
LL: Exactly. It was hate at first sight, but then I came around. He won me over.
MG: Our collaboration began when we planned to do just one piece together. Leon did a portrait of the two of us standing next to each other from a photograph we had taken partying together, and then he sent the painting to me. It all got started from there.
LL: It was just a picture where we were just goofing off, so we had absurd expressions on our faces. That image lent itself to Mike’s style, and it opened the window to how our different styles could fit together. Because we had been doing a lot of graffiti pieces together, among other productions, we were sort of familiar with each other. Neither of us is too egomaniacal, or cares if we step on the other’s toes. That openness with one another allows us to take a lot of liberties with each other while not worrying about hurt feelings, or anything like that. That’s the way it’s evolved, and now it’s like our comment on the world: a sarcastic joke about the way we feel about the world. We crack ourselves up a lot when we work together. The paintings are serious, but we paint with a lot of sarcastic humor.
How would you describe each other’s style?
MG: I honestly can’t really believe his style, the textures. Just watching the way he mixes paint alone, is tedious; then to see the beautiful part that comes out of it…that’s definitely what I like the most about Leon’s style.
LL: I think that we like what each other does, because we are such polar opposites. Because the process is so different for each of us, it’s really amazing to watch the other. I like when we get together. I love to watch Mike paint. It’s very exciting. Like he said, I spend hours mixing my colors to create the illusion of realism. But with Mike he just dives right in without a whole lot of premeditation, and it’s really fun to watch the way it evolves so spontaneously. I think he has an incredible instinct and intuition. That’s something that I have a hard time accessing in my own process…and that makes me appreciate it even more. I love watching him paint.
Your collaborative process is unique. Can you explain it for our readers?
MG: Basically one of us will start a painting and will give the other a vague idea of what we’re going for. Usually, Leon will paint something and send it to me, then I get it and ill feel apprehensive about touching it. Finally, I’ll get into my groove and paint over it, or paint with it…then nervously send it back to him, waiting for his reply. And then he does something over what I did, and it keeps going back and forth.
LL: Usually there are about three to four levels of exchange. Sometimes Mike does the first move, but usually I start them. I try to leave enough space for him to work with, and as time goes by I’m really understanding how to set him up better by the way I space my images. After Mike does something, I will riff off of what he’s done, and mimic his style a bit. Sometimes it’s hard for him to take liberties over what I’ve painted, and I understand that. I always tell him, “Just go over it man, don’t worry about it. Rough it up!” That’s part of the charm of it.
MG: I treat it with kid gloves.
LL: Ha ha, ya, I’ve gotta coax him into pushing further into my section sometimes. He’s very kind and respectful. However, I think that one of the great things about the collaboration is that we’re not afraid to push back and forth over each other, or edit each other.
I’m intrigued by the exhibition’s title, ‘After Apologies.’ What inspired the name?
M: Well, I kind of came up with the name. A lot of the solo pieces I have in the show deal with the idea that even after you apologize to somebody, there is still that layer of distrust that will be there forever…and you can’t ever really get rid of it.
Neither of you studied art in a formal setting; how do you believe that autodidactic process has shaped your work?
LL: I think that, personally speaking, I see a lot of people from art school who are rebelling against their experience. I never had that need to shun the use of traditional technique. I was always attracted to that. I taught myself, but that doesn’t mean I did so in a vacuum; I looked at what other painters did and tried to figure it out for myself. Then, through replicating what they did, my art started to get its own momentum, and its own life. Once I developed an understanding of the paint and how to manipulate it, how to layer it, then I detached from what they did, and pushed it in my own direction. I think that also made me a very hard worker. I was driven because I didn’t start brush painting until my late twenties, and then no one was there to teach me; it made me very hungry to pursue it as hard as I could. I think that was a real blessing, actually.
MG: There have been a lot of times when I thought that I should have gone to art school, or I feel like the people who did go to art school are doing just a little bit better than I am professionally. I don’t really know anybody that went solely for painting. As far as web design and stuff like that, they’re all doing well. I have always felt that I had an understanding for art, ever since I was thirteen years old, when I began creating my own work. As I progressed, I avoided art school; I didn’t want to be the guy that was known for the school he attended.
Finally, what words of inspiration do you have for other aspiring artists?
LL: I think that the most important thing is to be passionate about it, and paint as often as you can. If you have true love for it, then you will want to do it every single day. Ultimately talent gets you only a fraction of the way. Sitting down and bending yourself to the task—a task that you love—with great consistency, over a long period of time, will make you very good at what you do. So persistence, and consistency are the two key factors in my opinion.
MG: Try not to limit yourself. Do anything you can that you feel is artistic, and if you feel ashamed about it, find out why and just do it anyway.
LL: Bare yourself naked before the world.
MG: That’s what you gotta do, right? I think that a lot of people limit their art, and it holds them back, but if they are willing to take the next step, in a different direction, then it’s better.
LL: Dare to be different. That’s the ultimate accomplishment of any artist: to broaden the taste of their audience. To push them beyond their comfort zone and make them understand something new that they didn’t understand before, and find meaning in it. That’s when art is at its best, when it teeters on the edge of cliff, does a few daredevil tricks, and still manages not to plummet into the abyss.