Conversation with Artist Leo Monahan
$10.00Artist: Leo Monahan
Producer: Creative Catalyst Productions
Runtime: 82 mins
Ted McIrvine - Arts Spectrum, Hendersonville News · July 24, 2005
South Dakota, Southern California and Southern Appalachia have little in common except for the five letters s-o-u-t-h. But the first two locations figured importantly in the artistic development of Leo Monahan, America's foremost paper sculpture illustrator, and the stimulus provided by our region will shape his future output.
Monahan was born in Lead, S.D. HBO devotees know that Lead (which is pronounced "leed" and means an outcropping of ore) is just a ten-minute gallop from Deadwood. In 1874, General George Custer's expedition arrived and two cultures collided. The new arrivals, with a philosophy of "Manifest Destiny," discovered gold and soon were fighting each other over the titles to gold mining claims. The Sioux felt they too had claims, albeit of a different nature. Their nomadic culture (appropriate in a region with less than 20 inches of annual rainfall) had no concept of land ownership. Cutting into the face of the Black Hills was like cutting into your mother's breast.
Monahan's grandfather and father were both miners, and Monahan might have followed in their footsteps had he not served in the Japanese occupation forces during the Korean War. Using his GI Bill, he then studied art at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. Walt Disney had taken an interest in the school, and when Monahan received a Disney Scholarship, a long involvement with the Disney enterprises began. The Chouinard Art Institute merged with the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music in 1961 to become the California Institute of the Arts ("CalArts") on a splendid campus in Valencia, built with funds from the estate of Walt Disney.
Monahan was involved with Chouinard, Disney and/or CalArts for 50 years before moving to North Carolina. He taught color, served as a Disney contractor, and had access to the model shops and the specialized techniques used for set construction for Disney amusement parks. Fresh out of school with a few other designers and photographers, he started a business that created cover art for over 1,200 records. Selling that business, he did freelance illustration for 10 years, then began an advertising agency.
He began paper sculpture in 1960. By the late 1970s, paper sculpture had taken over his life. Since 1987, he has done nothing but paper sculpture, both as an illustrator and as a fine artist. Generally using Strathmore 2-ply and 3-ply kid finish papers (and sometimes using watercolor paper or handmade papers), he tears and cuts the paper into three-dimensional sculptures to which he applies color with an arsenal of techniques.
His fine art has primarily been topically based upon his childhood in the Black Hills and especially on symbols arising from the Sioux or from nature. Masks, feathers, pottery, boats and birds appear frequently. Now that he has relocated to Barnardsville, his art is influenced by his new surroundings. He is currently working on sculptures inspired by the autumn forest floor in this region. Patterns representing fallen leaves but with distorted scale will be prominent.