Artist Interview: Steve Leadbeater on Inspiration, Art and Subversion

Steve Leadbeater, our newest edition to Art & Collectors, is an artist free from constraints. His inspirations vary from Sidney Nolan to Jenny Holzer, Francis Bacon, The Clash and ancient cultures, each work compelled from the gut. In this interview with the Melbourne-based artist, Leadbeater discusses his eternal attempt to “break” from style, how privacy can be confessional and the ever-presence of art in his life.  

Steve Leadbeater 'Untitled'

What inspires your work?

I find it difficult to separate life from inspiration. I naturally seek it but I’m surrounded by it anyway. My work gives me a glimpse of the divine as I paint from the guts.

But to name names: Sidney NolanEmil Nolde; Charles BlackmanA. R. Penck; Georg Baselitz; Ian Fairweather; Barbara Kruger; Willem de Kooning; Paul Klee; Robert Rauschenberg; William S Burroughs; Jenny Holzer; Party Dozen; Pablo Picasso; Jim Morrison; Francis Bacon; John OlsenAndy Warhol; Wasted Rita; Steven Pressfield; Steven Heller; Bad Brains; The Clash; Mess Hall; Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; The Pixies; Spoon; Rennie Ellis; LCD Soundsystem; Under the Sea; Franz Kline; Keith Haring; Cy Twombly; Jesper Waldersten; Raymond Pettibon; Jean-Michel Basquiat; Patti Smith; Jesse Draxler; David Shrigley; Paul Davis; Dennis Hopper; Saul Leiter; James Victore; David Bowie; Joan Miro; Robert del Naja; Rosalie Gascoigne; Iain McCaig; Alexander Calder; Jackson Pollock; Egon Schiele; and ancient cultures from around the world.

Steve Leadbeater 'Untitled' [Blue Nude]

Since you started exhibiting in the 1990s, have you felt your style change?

Over the years I’ve made work in a variety of styles like realistic, conceptual and abstract, across photography, printmaking, painting and sculpture. My style is something I’m constantly trying to break. As I try, my style seems to evolve rather than break. I’ve found that when I create work that excites me it tends to resonate with others, regardless of style.

In some of your imagery, there is a sense of darkness. How do you understand this?

I’m interested in the mysteries of being human. Less about external beauty and more about internal beauty. I guess society is unfamiliar with art exploring internal physicality and spirituality (darkness). I take visual risks and surrender control of my process to chance and intuition. Some of the results are more joyful than I expect - some are darker. If I've captured the energy I’m usually happy. I acknowledge that much of the darkness perceived in my work reflects the viewer.

Steve Leadbeater 'Untitled'

You’ve mentioned an interest in the tension between anonymity and identity. What does it mean for you?

Privacy is as important as being heard and recognised. I’m fascinated by these contrasts. In my work they appear as timeless universal imagery opposed with very specific references to my personal life.

What role does making art play in your life?

Art is ever-present. I’m either making art or living a life that demands art be made.  

Steve Leadbeater 'Untitled'

Steve Leadbeater 'Untitled'

You’ve made art on roller doors, t-shirts, jerry cans and more. How do unconventional materials reflect or enhance your practice?

A key part of my practice is challenging myself. I find that experimenting with materials or formats helps me get to surprising places. It also subverts our relationship to the object and makes my contribution stark and powerful.

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