Friday, January 11, 2013

Shaun El C. Leonardo's "Champion of the World" at Praxis-International

Shaun El C Leonardo
Shaun El C. Leonardo, at his opening
Many thanks to Bruce Morrow, an old friend, for alerting me to the opening of artist Shaun El C. Leonardo's current show at Praxis International Art in Chelsea. Leonardo's work, which dates back  over a decade, has consistently and insistently explored the theme of masculinity, or masculinities, through visual imagery, sculpture, installations, and his legendary performances as a luchador, in galleries and public spaces. What have been and are his models for constructing and deconstructing masculinities as a Latino man (of Dominican and Guatemalan ancestry) coming of age in the late 20th and early 21st centuries? His art, through process and practice, has been working and reworking this question and similar ones out.

With his new show, "Champion of the World," he has begun to move away from the physically exacting projects of the last few years into new forms of visuality and performance, symbolically staging a crowning of his prior projects and a partial requiem for them. (He even had a bandaged, booted foot to show for his real-world exertions.) Through charcoal drawings of wrestlers grappling, representational images that dissolve towards abstraction; large-scale charcoal "self-portraits" depicting his choices as the "greatest" in their respective martial arts fields (Mike Tyson in boxing; Rick Flair in wrestling; Anderson Silva in mixed-martial arts); smaller self-portraits (the Gotti series); gilt-framed photos of past public performances; and a multi-screen projection of the video for the 2012 version of "Battle Royal" (a problematic form that makes its appearance not just in Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man, which inspired Leonardo, but in Quentin Tarantino's Django, Unchained); and, perhaps most emblematic, a stunning black, laminated championship belt, he pays tribute to the iconography and performances through which he has made his name, while suggesting a shift into a new realm that entails a return to figurative drawing, photography, and other forms of artistic labor and materiality.

Where in this work, and possible future directions, does the masculine, his notions of masculinities, of himself as a male artist (of color), lie?  Only Shaun El C. Leonardo can answer these questions, and he certainly will. Until then, though, there is his website, which provides glimpses of prior work--which I have only seen via the Net, since I was almost always in Chicago when he was performing in New York--and there is the show, which runs until February 2, 2013.  I highly recommend it, and maybe the very beautiful and friendly artist himself will be there to great you. He throws no shade, only conviction and warmth.
Shaun El C Leonardo
El C. Leonardo greeting a fan
A series of pencil sketches of grapplers
The "Match" series of charcoal drawings
The show's opening night
El C. Leonardo's "Self-Portrait Campeon (Mike Tyson),"
Charcoal on paper, 72" x 60" 
A video clip, from Shaun El C's show
A still from the video of "Battle Royal" (2012)

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