Lebo’s May 14 opening reception of his latest solo show "Moving Towards Light," timed to coincide with Wynwood’s Art Walk, may be the artist’s first Miami exhibition in more than three years, but it’s far from his only recent show, and he’s been anything but inactive during the interim.
The 43-year-old artist was raised in South Florida, which he proudly calls home, although he travels widely for artistic pilgrimages, sightseeing and exhibitions. Like most artists, he’s the most excited about his current work, butthis latest series arises from decades of research and exploration of diverse themes and mediums. The new paintings showcase his combined and longstanding interests in science and spirituality.
In a recent interview at his South Beach studio, David Le Batard (aka Lebo) traced his artistic evolution and provided insights into his road to recognition and commercial success. (think: work ethic)
Portrait of Lebo in his studio.
Art school isn’t the path for everyone. While Lebo doesn’t knock academic training, he didn’t have access to art programs as a kid in Broward county. What he did have was the strong resource of the main library’s art book collection and a love for newspaper comic strips, which he called “a daily dialogue.” Drawing was his passion, and for the first twelve years he drew in an endless series of sketchbooks, which still serve as his launch pad for ideas. Art books were his teachers. In college, he majored in humanities, rather than subjecting himself to the prevailing conceptual art theories imposed on art majors. Greek literature, art history, cosmology and metaphysics shaped his thinking, as they revealed how art reflected what was going on around it. “Greek vases were like newspapers,” he said. They told visual stories of mythic heroes, current events and the natural world. And, like his comic strips, were narrative driven.
Lebo adding written details to one of his latest pieces.
Shamanistic and so-called “primitive”artworks of diverse global cultures also intrigued him with the power of their symbols, and he continues to collect and reference the bold but intricate artworks of the Aztecs and ancient Egyptians – among many others. Look at Lebo’s paintings, and you’ll see the owl as one of many recurring animal motifs. His accompanying texts provide context: “The ancient Greeks used the owl to represent Athena the Goddess of Wisdom. Its ability to see in the dark has created awe from the dawn of time. This sketch was made in hopes of drawing out the divinespark in us all.”
Elevated owls, part of his new exhibit "Moving Towards Light".
Many of the paintings contain seemingly throwaway lines of script that actually prod the viewer to dig a little deeper. “Elevated, elevated, elevated,” “reborn… again and again,” or “our place in the sun.” Some might call these corny aphorisms, but they actually stem from Lebo’s heartfelt sense of art as a force for good and they strike a major chord with his fan and collector base. Their optimism connects to other important threads: Lebo’s outreach, branding, work ethic and business savvy.
“I want to do what I do well enough and treat people well enough that I get recommended by word of mouth,” he said.
Some details of Lebo's studio.
One such recommendation led to the breakthrough 2013 commission to design the enormous wrap-around nautical-themed mural that graces Norwegian Cruise Lines’ ship, The Getaway. The design stems from both his familiarity with the subtropical ambience and creatures of South Florida (the ship’s 6-month home port), and features a buoyant representation of the mythological image of the mermaid.
The Norwegian Gateway with Lebo's custom artwork design. (Photo courtesy NCL.com)
Lebo’s generous spirit, combined with his savvy about name recognition has led to numerous collaborations with charities and major brands. His murals and graphic designs include NBA Cares Learn & Play Center (with the Miami Heat) in North Miami, Boys and Girls Clubs, fundraising marathons and international brands, such as Harley Davidson, Adidas, Ferrari, Red Bull, Gibson Guitars, Sony Pictures and Bacardi. But he’s also proud to work with locals, especially such musical greats as theEstefans the Spam Allstars, the Miami Book Fair International and various local charities. His love for music shines through many of his most engaging images.
Lebo painting a mural for the Boys and Girls Club in Kendall. (Photo courtesy Lebo)
As a pioneering denizen of Wynwood before it was WYNWOOD! Lebo left an early, but abiding mark on the Miami mural scene, establishing himself as one of the notable local artists with a signature style. Now that he lives in South Beach, he’s developing opportunities to extend his distinctive pictorial imagination and logo to public spaces there.
Around the year 2000, before this 300-foot-long wall, right next to I-95, was consider the "Hall of Fame" of graffiti, Lebo painted his own mural design there, and it stayed up for 3 years. More than 20 million people passed by during its lifetime.
Since establishing a relationship with Park West Gallery, a pioneer in cruise ship based art sales, Lebo has maintained a strong exhibition schedule, which continues this summer, taking him regularly up to Alaska. Twelve-hour workdays in the studio are routine, and Lebo expresses a degree of disdain for newbies who are more concerned with the image of being an artist, than about making images at the easel. Lebo works hard to keep his creative edge, extend his outreach and maintain the animating spirit of his work. With his success, he can say, “I’m trying to stay as motivated as ever, but without the fear component.”