In the Studio: Hugh Leeman
Hugh Leeman (b. October 23, 1983) began gaining recognition for his popular grand-scale graffiti portraits of homeless people in San Francisco. From humble beginnings himself, Leeman’s interest in painting homeless eventually led him to the second phase of his career, which came to be the “T-Shirt Project”. In efforts to support the less privileged, Hugh in his own way became a philanthropist at an early age. He would paint his subjects and transfer his images onto a t-shirt for them to keep and sell for 100% of the profit. Posters with QR codes were later placed all over the city to entice locals and tourist to purchase more online, thus not only funding the project but also connecting two disparate demographics to work together.
Though highly successful, Hugh demanded change within himself. It was imperative that he abandoned his old process and challenged his way of thinking. This was his defining moment and also what we’ve come to know as the third phase of his evolving career.
Hugh relinquished a tightly controlled work process and shifted his paintings to become a physical and meditative state. Hugh purged himself of all his belongings, his paints, brushes and all that he knew. He withdrew from the art world for a period of time only to eventually return with a fresh perspective.
His re-birth began with two palettes, black and white. Leeman’s new approach is to paint loosely and expressively with oil and paint spray. He deserted the idea of painting from real life and photographs and began working internally using his feelings and movements to create powerful thought-provoking images. His departure from realism has forced Leeman into a style and technique never before seen. The content challenges his viewers forcing them into a deeply rooted contemplative state. Each canvas waits to be explored.
His latest work includes large murals that allow him to physically use his entire body, becoming part of his work. The results are spontaneous and emotive, with a greater emphasis on the process rather than the final product.