06/29/12 - 0 Comments
Unicorns, Dinosaurs and Monsters: The Fabulous Artwork of Leroy’s Place
A lot of times, art can be very serious. Too serious, in fact, for Serene Bacigalupi, the artist behind the fantastical creations of Leroy’s Place. Her work, she says, does not have a deeper meaning. The only ulterior motive behind her paintings is to make people smile with whimsical depictions of pink-winged unicorns flying above Jesus, flamingos gliding behind a sunken but beautiful tower’s facade and lanky black monsters tearing into a rundown school house.
Here, what you see is what you get—but what you get is still amazing, particularly when it’s a painting of a blue dinosaur being comforted by a herd of unicorns in a forgotten wood. “I think it’s refreshing for a lot of people to look at a piece of art and it makes them laugh, and that’s it,” says Bacigalupi. Well, she has definitely succeeded in making us smile, and we thought we’d share the love.
It all started back in 2009 when Bacigalupi moved to New York and opened Leroy’s Place, an online store and gallery where she displays and sells her jewelry and artwork. Before that, Bacigalupi was an anthropology major at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. You wouldn’t necessarily expect an anthropology major to become an artist, but for Bacigalupi this was the next logical step. Before breaking out on her own, though, she got a taste of what running an artistic business would be like by helping her mother with her clothing line, Kiss of the Wolf, for two years after college. That’s right, her mother is Lori Bacigalupi, a designer of hand-painted silk textiles whose work was featured in the 2011 Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.
“I guess I got a little spoiled watching my family own their own business, because I was really attracted to having the flexibility and the creative work,” Bacigalupi said in an interview earlier this summer. “So I’m not surprised that I went into something creative.” What is surprising, however, is how incredible her artwork is, despite the fact that Bacigalupi herself has had little to no formal training as an artist. Her only prior experience with art, she said, was the graffiti she did when she was younger.
While most of this was done on the pages of notebooks (“When I was a kid I wasn’t really big on going out and painting in the streets. I never really wanted to have the felony for that”), Bacigalupi did develop the tag “Leroy” for the art she did paint in public spaces. The name stuck, and we love it because it’s so unexpected. This, however, was Bacigalupi’s original intention. “I thought ‘Oh, if they’re going to come looking for somebody, he’ll be named Leroy. It won’t be some little white girl from Oklahoma,’” she laughs. It was, Bacigalupi said, almost an accident that she found a way to bridge the gap between street art and fine art with her paintings. But fine art with an urban edge is exactly what her work embodies.
Unlike many of today’s artists, Bacigalupi doesn’t actually paint the entirety of her works. Instead, she revamps old paintings, taking a drab scene of an idyllic forest, a traditional landscape or an ocean front, and turning it into something completely new and original by adding a cast of delightfully ghoulish characters to the canvas. This process, Bacigalupi revealed, was actually born out of laziness (her words, not ours). “It sort of began as a way to cut corners,” she says, “because I don’t really have any interest in drawing the backgrounds. I’m really terrible at it.” While we find this hard to believe, we love the idea. A traditional seascape is, after all, so much more interesting with Bacigalupi’s rendition of a scene from Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn added in.
Her process begins with finding the paintings. To do this, Bacigalupi travels the country, buying up art at estate sales and flea markets and then shipping the works back to New York. “I love the idea of salvaging the paintings, you know, and that sort of re-use mentality,” she says. This, believe it or not, is sustainable artwork. From there, Bacigalupi lets the originals sit while she ruminates, coming up with a way to bring fancifully mischievous characters into each scene. Just as Bacigalupi re-uses old artwork, she loves to revisit the same characters in multiple paintings. After three years, she has come up with over 50 characters who reappear in her art.
If you’re a parent, you’re probably cringing. All that tuition to pay for an anthropology degree, and Bacigalupi decided to become an artist. But rest assured this anthropology degree hasn’t gone to waste. All of that studying she did in college actually plays a huge role in the creation of each of her characters. “I think that the general idea that every culture has this feared ethereal version of a monster is what’s interesting to me, not a particular one,” she explained.
When it’s actually time to add a character into a painting, Bacigalupi breaks out her paint pens and goes to work. While she does do a little sketching beforehand, for the most part, she dives headfirst into the process and adds her monsters to each piece. “It’s sort of just cross my fingers and go for it,” she says. “It’s really just a kind of graffiti-like process where I’m really painting directly onto the painting.” Mistakes can be part of the process too: “Sometimes,” she says of the paint pens, “they’ll just leak all over.” But a mistake doesn’t necessarily mean she has to scrap the whole painting. Instead, an unexpected paint splotch will become an extra limb, or turn her creature into an entirely different monster.
Bacigalupi’s work is, unarguably, her own. She does, however, draw a lot of inspiration from the graffiti and illustrator communities. She cites Banksy as the original creator of a “painting in a painting.” Wayne White, she said, has also been a huge inspiration. The artists who had the biggest impact on her work, however, were Quentin Blake, who illustrated the Roald Dahl books, and Gary Larson, the creator of The Far Side. Humor, Bacigalupi feels, is the strongest element to her work.
But this talented artist doesn’t just do paintings—she also has her own line of acrylic jewelry. The project started with what she calls “shrinky dinks”—hand-drawn and cut pieces of jewelry that, though fabulously fun, were very labor-intensive. With the business expanding, Bacigalupi has since reworked the concept and is now set to launch a new line of musically-inspired pieces at the end of this month. These necklaces and cufflinks will feature artists like The Notorious B.I.G, Tupac, Questlove and Fela Kuti. While we really love Bacigalupi’s paintings, her jewelry is what’s really earning her all the attention. On May 25, Questlove even posted a tweet about Bacigalupi’s jewelry, writing “Hottest chick in the bowling alley….wearin me?”
Bacigalupi gave us a couple of insider tips about where to find her jewelry once it’s released. While the Biggie and Tupac pieces will be available on her website, she is making the Questlove and Fela Kuti pieces exclusively for Okayafrica. For some sneak peaks of the collection, go to the Leroy’s Place Facebook page (spoiler alert: there’s a photo of Questlove wearing the jewelry!).
For a small town girl from Norman, Oklahoma, Bacigalupi is really making a splash in the New York art scene. This impending fame, however, has not stopped her from staying connected with fans of her work. Though her jewelry and art are sold in stores across the country, in cities including New York, Las Vegas and New Orleans, the venues she loves best are the flea markets she goes to right here in the city. Most weekends she can be found showing her work at Artists and Fleas in Brooklyn and the Hester Street Fair in Manhattan. For a complete schedule of where she’ll be and when, be sure to check out her website.
“When I’m standing at my booth and people look up at my artwork,” Bacigalupi explained, “they kind of stare at it for a second, and it takes them a second. And then I see them crack this smile. It’s something that’s really priceless for me. Even the most serious people will be walking by my booth, they’ll have this grimace on their face—especially in New York, everyone’s so cynical—and to see them just stop and laugh…it’s kind of silly, but I think that it’s a really special thing to bring to people. There are so many things that aren’t funny, so I think that if I can make people laugh a little bit, that would be enough for me.”
If you haven’t already clicked over to Leroy’s Place, do it now. How could pictures of adorable unicorns not make any day better?
Photo credit: Leroy’s Place