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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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06/20/2005 Archived Entry: "Interview with Leo Limón"

Interview with Leo Limón

Mr. Limón gave Ginger Mayerson of J LHLS this interview at the Avenue 50 Studio on June 11, 2005, where Mr. Limón has a show up until July 4.

Ginger Mayerson: What are you working on?

Leo Limón: I'm working on pastels and a series of paintings based upon the Aztec calendar.

GM: What media do you work most in?

LL: I love chalk pastels, I love the textures on the papers, the technical aspects of pastels. If you make a mistake, opps! That's it.

GM: Do you tape new sections of paper on like Degas did?

LL: No, just the paper I started with.

GM: What kind of paper do you use? I was looking at some of your pastels and there's a very nubby look to the paper.

LL: Canson paper.

GM: Did you have any formal training in art or are you self-taught?

LL: I am self-taught. I've never taken a painting class, but I have a certificate in sign painting. And as you can tell I am a sign painter.

GM: A painter of signs?

LL: Exactly. I was very fortunate in my youth to attend the Otis Art Institute, while in High School, to a class of minority kids. The class was actually started right after the Watts Riots in the mid-Sixties for the African American community. The program originally traveled around South Central and ended up at Otis.

A group of people came to my High School, Lincoln High, I graduated from there in 1971, and they choose me out of eight other participants. I didn't know how to draw for lick when I got to the class, I loved it!

GM: Do you remember any of the teachers?

LL: Charles White, he was faculty of Otis, and he taught the "cool" life drawing, because he was too cool. He was African American, did a lot of stuff in Chicago, and he drew the African American experience really beautiful, but on weekends he was just Mr. Cool. He smoked Kools, of all things.

Bill Tarrow, leader of the pack, a dynamo advertising guy, took us across the street to Diamond Jim's, gave me my first martini.

GM: What artists or art periods, if any, do you feel have influenced or inspired you as an artist?

LL: Picasso, Van Gogh, Daimier, Rousseau, Leger. I joined the Army after High School to go to Europe and study the art there, first hand, and it was a dynamite experience.

GM: Are there any Chicano or Mexican schools of art that have influenced you?

LL: Yes, the Masters; Carlo Almaraz, but he was Charles then in 1973, but when I came back from the service he was Carlos. Carlos took me to see Ceasar Chavez. I guess he was becoming Chicanoized, because he'd missed that, he was very institutionalized, Carlos was, he'd gone to New York and China by the time I had met him, and he was very much looking for something. But he was a fantastic fantastic draftsman, and if rubbed off; they say I draw like Carlos. I draw nothing like Carlos, but there's the same intensity in my drawing as his.

And then there's Tammayo, Frida Kahlo, she's the one. She's like the Van Gogh of Mexico. I think she's going to become bigger, like the art princess of the Americas.

The school of Chicano art has been an influence, too, especially since there's places like this (Avenue 50 Studio) and others in LA to show our work. Guys are going to art school and learning things and interpreting the older schools of art in their own way. Right now, we're already getting criticism for 'Oh, you put the Virgin Mary in there, sombreros, Mariachis, Zapata...' and I'm going 'Yeah! That's right! So?' Even now, guys are showing me stuff that is, like, Motherwell-ish or like Jackson Pollock, and I go 'Yeah, that's Chicano art. Sure.' If you want it to be, if you're influenced by that school.

GM: What are the most important aspects and experiences in your practice of art now?

LL: I'm Mr. Old G.

GM: What?

LL: Oldie but Goodie. But young people call me Mr. A Old G, which is Ancient Oldie but Goodie.

It seems like the youth find there's no future, you know, so the things they do now, they say 'Yeah, I smoked for three years, man, I almost killed myself, but you know, I got out of it.' And I'm looking at this 18 year old kid, and I'm going 'Yeah, wow, my uncle smoked for 80 years.'

GM: Do they really think there's no future?

LL: Yeah, the kids I find out there -- I'm looking for taggers -- and I find them. There's thousands of them, literally thousands of them, and they've grown up, because of the change of times, in a different generation. There used to be a gang, the neighborhood is called whatever it is and the gang would mark the territory (with graffiti that was the name of the gang ED). And then Maria's or Johnny's little brother decided to be part of a crew, which is three or four or five or six at the most kids, who go out and tag. Now they've learned through Heavy Metal magazine and interpretations of air brush, well, a spray can gives that look.

GM: Are they tagging for a gang for themselves?

LL: Themselves.

GM: Oh, so this is Me-Tagging?

LL: Yeah, Me-Tagging.

GM: I've seen some amazing tags in my neighborhood. Especially on the freeway and on billboards. I'm amazed they can do that without killing themselves. I mean, do you consider these taggers to be, like, the new muralists?

LL: No, because these kids know nothing about the local art history, they're tagging the murals. There's commercialism in tagging. Like I said, I have a certificate in sign painting, and these guys (taggers ED) are signing, but they're not saying anything. Their tag, which is their art, is their signature. And they sign them, and they actually put a copyright on them, with a stencil.

GM: Are there any art shows in the LA area that have had an influence on you?

LL: Not shows, but I've put the MOCA in several of my paintings. I've yet to step inside it, but I've painted it a lot. I go to museums when they have shows of Chicano, Mexican or indigenous art. I spend a lot of time in the Natural History Museum. I find things there. Like, I found this 32 million year old cat, one of the first saber-tooth cats, it had small fangs, not the big large ones like the California cats, the California ones came later on, got larger for some reason. Anyway, the smaller cat is called Hoplophoneus. Hop-lo-phon-e-us. But then I put the word Hip in front of it, and then I thought of J-Lo; so Hip Hop Lo, I have this character that's a female that's in my work that I'll be producing.

GM: This is a Kathy Gallagos question: If you would talk to younger artists, how would you explain the role of inspiration and self-discipline?

LL: Quite easy. You have to apply yourself, by finding the time to work, to get to the library and find information, figuring out a different way to sit down and do your discipline. Do a lot of reading, if you can't read, then look at pictures, copy those things. Basically, we're all copy-catters; we're not inventing anything new.

I was lucky, I figured out the old question of 'ho hum, what should I draw?' very early. When I was in High School, I went to a used bookstore and found a old set of dictionaries. In these older dictionaries, they had these full page illustrations of horses, cows, fish, farm equipment, and I saw these illustrations and read the information, and realized how much information and images I could put in a drawing or painting. So I draw everything, I have sketchbooks full of drawings and information that I've never painted, so when I need subjects for paintings, I just open an old sketchbook and there it is.

I was trained that way, the Otis course was basically a sketchbook class and I got very good at it. I tell kids, learn to draw first because you'll use it forever, especially when you're not around a computer.

GM: This is another Kathy Gallagos question: Which is more important? Inspiration or self-discipline?

LL: They're both the same thing, they're equally important.

GM: How are they the same thing?

LL: You have to have both to create art. You have to have the idea the technique, the heart and the hand. Inspiration and finesse.

GM: What are you reading or listening to for fun these days?

LL: Well, I listen to KPFK. I also listen to a lot of jazz, I was brought up with it, and I listen to it religiously. I listened to this show with Leonard Feather and he taught me a lot about jazz.

Reading, I'm reading Howard Zinn, "History of the United States."

GM: Thank you, Leo.

Mr. Limón has a show of paintings at Avenue 50 Studio, 131 N. Ave 50, in Highland Park until July 4. Please call 323-258-1435 for gallery hours or visit the website at

Replies: 1 Comment

If you'd like to leave a comment on this interview, please use this form. Thank you. ED

Posted by Editor @ 01/04/2006 07:07 PM PST

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