KEVIN LEDO lives and works in Montreal, Canada. Finished his studies of Illustration and Design at Dawson College in 1999, and since then his artistic practice has crossed back and forth through the boundaries of mural, street art, fine art, and art installation, focusing on the human form interlaced with geometric abstraction. Ledo’s realistic figures merge with a graphic display of orbs, halos, and vector lines, suspended in a minimalistic environment, experiencing moments of contemplation, intimacy, joy and wonderment. I sat down with Kevin last November in his Montreal studio to chat about his creative process and artistic story, past, present and future. As well as discuss topics such as his inspirations, mantra’s, subject matter, as well as all the project he is involved in locally and internationally.
KEVIN LEDO- www.kevinledo.com
KEVIN- My name is Kevin Ledo, and I am Montreal Muralist.
JENNIFER - Where were you born? and where have you lived?
KEVIN-I was born in Montreal in the suburbs, I lived in Taiwan for a couple years B.C. and Guatemala.
JENNIFER- Where did you do your training as a artist?
KEVIN -I finished in 1999, I went to a Dawson college for a 3 year Illustration & Design. It was a very broad program to go into commercial art, but i only did this for about a year afterwards, till 2001. Then I stopped doing any kind of illustration job. Then I stopped.
JENNIFER -Why did you stop?
KEVIN- I never really wanted to do it, even when I was in school. When I was studying it I never really wanted to be a commercial artist. Especially at that time, I was very idealistic and anti corporate and everything. The idea of selling products, I didn’t really like that idea and then I didn’t land any cool jobs, i felt like I just helping sell crap and I just quit doing commercial art.
JENNIFER- Do you think the commercial art side inspired you in a way or comes through in your art today?
KEVIN- Maybe some of the things I learnt come through in terms of composition and design. It probably comes through quite a bit but in terms of content. I’m not trying but I guess you can say any artist is trying convey idea but I'm not trying to to sell anything.
JENNIFER- I feel like in the work, that you have behind you, has graphic and illustrative quality like the 1920’s, I am not saying Mucha but in that sense, now that your adding gold leaf…
KEVIN- Yeah I have been doing gold leaf for a number of years for awhile…He was a huge influence on me. He was a straight up commercial artist . He was one of my favourite artist and probably why i paint a lot of female portraits . I guess I have always been inspired by him but I have never used it as a map. I have come to realize that a lot of the shapes, that I have been using are kind of really simplified version of what he was doing. He was doing a lot of organic plants as design and then mine as been simplified as much until it’s just circles or just lines, but it kind of has the same flow and movement, in which he would have in his work.
JENNIFER- Any mentors? That you would say as you grew up?
KEVIN- I was really young , my aunt encouraged me to paint. Back in 2005, when I started doing a lot more canvas work I was probably inspired by my friend Omen. We were doing similar portraiture . I was influence by him. I can’t say he really influenced me because he was a hard ass. As time goes on, different things influenced me. I have part of en masse, I just felt like working with a lot of artists and expanded my horizon. I took little bits from different people.
JENNIFER- Inspiration? Is there other painters that inspired you?
KEVIN-There is a lot of artists that inspired me over the years. I feel like Mucha was a inspiration when I first started out, but I haven’t looked at his work in awhile, but I was also was inspired by Barque and Picasso when they start analytical cubism . Abstract geometrically abstraction and that kind of work as well. Kandinsky. Its totally different from what I do but I like the geometric shapes and abstract element. As time goes on there is a lot of street artists that i like, that I have looked up to over the years
JENNIFER- Aside from painters, Is there influences with music or even literature.?
KEVIN- Music is probably my biggest influence. I am a really big music fan and I listen to a lot of different music all the time. I know a lot more about music then I do about art. It has been a fuel and influence on me. Just like different sounds that emerge psychedelic rock. I listened to everything, metal, doom, hip hop, glitch. Like I really love music, so that has been a really big influence. Design and photography has been a big influence for me. In design, the mid century, the design work that was coming out in the 60’s and 70’s. A lot of line work, simplified forms and the colour palette. A lot of circular things. Then literature, I don’t read this much as I used to but it was a constant Carl Jung, some of his writings, buddhist philosophy. Things to do with the psyche..understanding the mind have had a huge influence in the work that I do as well and this is what I have been mostly been painting, the mind and perception and understanding the mind or how we see things or how it works.
JENNIFER- Your working on series right now?
KEVIN- I am starting a new series of work, which is mostly monochome. This one is actually called, Discerning the psyche. I am really diving into capturing mental states through geometric forms or emotional states within geometrical forms. Sometimes I try to capture a feeling or a thought or state and describe what it would look like and other times I start with the image and the person and try to understand what is happening there, and build the shapes around it and then try to understand what state that is or mindset they are in. It is a bit of both. Approaching it from two different ways.
JENNIFER- Do you have the idea and then you are looking for the models? So the models that you are working with her... do you find them ? Or is almost kind of random or how do you go about that?
KEVIN- I do photo shoot with one idea in mind and usually I don’t even do with that idea because I find others things within the photography. I also have a bank of images. Sometimes I dig through my archives and find new things and some of the images are older. So many things can come from that one shoot.
KEVIN-sometimes I want to photograph someone locally but I don’t know what the mural is about yet , so I photograph people and I look through the photographs and then I decide what its going to be about
JENNIFER- SO I just want to talk about any other mediums that you used to express? You said photography, have you made music before?
KEVIN- When I was a teen , I used to play in a punk alternative band. Actually i first started off in metal band. And then i didn’t play for a number of years and then 2007 I got back into a band for fun and started playing bass, we were playing a bunch of different music. As a joke band we jammed and play doom mental. I used dj electronic music, breakbeats. I used to produce break beats on my computer. There is only so much I can do, I can’t do everything. I need to focus on one thing and at the moment, it’s painting.
JENNIFER - Do you write at all?
KEVIN- Sometimes I journal. Sometimes I write things down to figure out my brain, plot things out or schedule. but i don’t write in any kind of creative manner.
JENNIFER- So tell me about a process.? I generally have to write things down, i have tons of journals with ideas, Are you like that. to get it out of your head , is that how you go about it or when you do a painting say, do you do small sketches, that lead to bigger ones or do you just go for it?
KEVIN - I go for it. sometimes I write down general several ideas to what I want to achieve or sometimes I do sketches. If I have a image in my mind and other times i just go to it . Other times i go about it intuitively and I find the image and then i try to understand what shapes go around it and what works, and what it’s about and work at it backwards . So sometimes I am trying to figure it out and what its about and only by the end of it do I realize what its about and other times, I know what it’s about and I try to achieve it. I do a number of different things. I try not to write about it too much because I find when I write it out exactly what I want to achieve and what its about, then I am less passionate about painting it, because it’s already out, because it’s already on paper. paintings just help me figure things out.
JENNIFER- So tell me about how the Leonard Cohen Mural came about?
KEVIN-I was invited by the Muralfest to paint Leonard Cohen . Last summer, 2017 and I wanted to paint Leonard Cohen for a few years and I almost did. I was approached by someone who was working with Sony music and wanted me to come up with a wall and paint it for his 80th birthday but the timeline was too short, so I missed my first opportunity, but after he passed I was asked by mural festival if I was interested . But not only to paint him but also on this really big wall that I had been eyeing. It was a really big wall, In which I used to live by. So I always looking at it, wondering how I would paint it or what would it take. The two came together, and so I was in.
JENNIFER- With Leonard Cohen, have you been a fan prior?
KEVIN- Yes of course, I have been a fan of his work, it’s why I wanted to paint him.
JENNIFER- and his literature and his poetry?
KEVIN- Actually never dove into his poetry? mostly affected by his music then his poetry. You know, if you listen to Leonard Cohen then you know, its very emotional and pulls at your strings and I saw myself in a lot of his music and it pained me to listen to it but it was beautiful. ..Like a deep sign.
JENNIFER - Is there a album that you go to.?
KEVIN- I was listening for a number of years, to this complication of his music for a long time and then his last two albums, I listen to a lot. It is really interesting to see how he developed from when he was younger to the end of his career. Its great, he was a great artist and its amazing to see someone change, evolve, and take on life, because you know you could see pockets of when they are younger and what their mind was like and as they get older so I find it not only really good music but super interesting to follow a full career like that.
JENNIFER- Who chose the photograph that you ended up painting from?
KEVIN- I did, I found the photograph and then we got a hold of the photographer and asked permission to used it and he was happy to let me used it.
JENNIFER- Can I ask why you chose the older version of Leonard then say a younger ?
KEVIN- The mural is inspired by his last two albums and so it made sense to me that it was a recent photography.
JENNIFER - are you happy with it?
KEVIN- Yeah I am but I could have spent a few more weeks on it. At least another week, there is just things I see now, that Im like… It was a lot of work in a short amount of time.and we used the resources that we had but it would have been great to have more assistance. My lift operator, I got him to roll out a lot of flat spots with me, so I had had help that like but it would have been great to have had more help and more time. In the end I ended doing 6 days a week for 3 weeks and 10 to 12 hours days, in all kinds of weather so it was really challenging and I was just so burntout , so if I had another week or two, Im sure it would have been better but it is what it is and I’m not going back up there and I got to live with it..
JENNIFER - Well that’s a big thing to live with….hahah. ?
KEVIN- Well I am happy with it, I just know I could have done better. Its almost every painting is like that.
JENNIFER- I was just going to say. I think artists have to decide when their finished with something, and maybe a due date is the better thing
KEVIN- and it was mostly to having started it a little bit later then originality planned and then having a project directly after, in which I postponed for this, I had to go. So number of things, if i had started a week later it would have been better. but it worked out.
JENNIFER - but a very nice thing to have in your portfolio. hahah.
JENNIFER -So after the Leonard Cohen mural you took off to Europe?…
KEVIN- I finished the mural and then I had a day or two and then I went to Amsterdam and I was invited to paint, a regular size mural but it was actually a painting, but it was 5 by 9 meters for Street Art today, Its a organization in Amsterdam. A building museum to street art. They have a enormous building, where they used to build ships, so you can just imagine. Its the size of a few city blocks. so they invited street artists from around the world to come paint large scale canvases. so I went to go do that directly after. I was there for about 2 weeks and then I went on vacation to Portugal, where my parents are from, which was really good and was there for another 10-12 days.
I continued to Berlin for a few days, met up with some friends and then went to Beirut. I did a project with APART. That stands for Awareness & Prevention though art and we worked with some kids in Lebanon and Beirut. The idea was to work with kids who had been affected by war. Whether the kids were refugees or they have been in a area that has gone through war. Lebanon has gone through civil war and other wars. They just had a lot of war gone on there. We worked with some kids, in which wrote down their hope for the future The kids wrote down their hopes for the future. We did some brainstorming with them and they wrote down their idea and we got them to paint on the wall and I painted a little girl kind of looking up at her future.
I finished that and from there I believe I came back home and painted a mural at Liv art in the back alleyway and then I went to St Jerome and did mural project for festival there and then soon after I went to Denver and I worked with the RAW project. The rock project basically works with unfunded school. This first two projects were in Miami and this was the first time they exported. The started working in three schools in Denver. I was invited to paint there. I wasn’t working with any kids but the kids were kind of around all the time and ask me questions.
We wanted to paint something up lifting, something positive for the kids, basically go to places that don't get a lot of attention and give something good to the schools. Anyways, the affects are really great. Not only to the kids personally but to the attendance and violence rate and all kinds of different things. I believe since I have come back from that, that is it. Now back in Montreal, I am back in my studio, working on a new body of work.
JENNIFER- So generally murals come to you, they ask you?
KEVIN- Yeah for the most part
JENNIFER- Do you pitch murals ?
KEVIN- Mostly murals come to me but I do sometimes pitch murals, because a lot of the projects I do, don’t pay , so when there is a project I could get funding sometimes its a city project or its in other cities often. Sometimes I will pitch what I can do in my portfolio or whatever, To date I haven’t got anything I pitched and I have done 12 in the past year in the, so I am weighing if it’s even worth it. ( laugh)
JENNIFER- Why do you think you didn’t, do you think it’s the city, or the country…
KEVIN-Well even in Montreal I pitched some projects that didn't go through but the projects I have been invited to obviously worked. I think there is just a lot of artists who pitch. So they just liked someone’s better…This whole art things is a big mystery, I actually don’t know how this works…
JENNIFER -So where would be a dream wall for you?
KEVIN- A dream wall. Oh I don’t think I have a dream wall at this point, The projects I pitched, they already had a direction, boundaries, and they ask which artists are interested in doing this, and these are the projects that I have been pitching…and they pay, so it’s good to get paid sometimes.
JENNIFER-I just thought of this, as you said I was eyeing that wall.
KEVIN- oh yeah, it was a giant wall in the plateau and I had been painting walls forever, and I was eyeing it, saying how am I going to do that, it’s so big….
JENNIFER- So thats the thing, painters look at blank canvas and woo, what am I going to put on there, and your a muralist, so you look at walls.
KEVIN- I find it’s a lot easier to come up with ideas for walls then for canvases, for me. I can’t look at a blank canvas and decide, i can’t come up with any inspiration, I just have no ideas, I need to do it different. But with walls, there is so much context.. Totally different . So ideas come a lot easier. You look at a wall and you kind of know where it is, who is going to see it and ideas just start flowing. How you can work the features that are already there but with a blank canvas there is nothing to work with so its a very different approach.
JENNIFER- So Its like talking about the process…
KEVIN-Often with murals I just look at the walls for period of time and things start coming to mind and how things could flow or how a face could be there and ideas start flowing. Its very different from studio work.
JENNIFER -Yes for sure, totally, So I guess you are in those two realms as a creator.
KEVIN -So I guess one feeds the other too, its good to change it up but the transition from one to the another is really difficult . After doing studio work for awhile and then I get back to a wall I am totally terrified to do a wall. I am afraid to go this high again, how the hell will I paint something this big. but when I am painting murals all the time, it just becomes easier, ok this is the wall and this is what I am going to do and I just go for it and then I come back to the studio and Im like how do I come up with ideas again.
JENNIFER- In a space, because now your in a studio and enclosed.
KEVIN- There is no people around, there is a lot less simulation, I’m not outside, there is no sun, it’s totally different, and I’m self motivated, there no deadlines.
JENNIFER -How do you push yourself in the studio then?
KEVIN-The best thing for me, is just to show up everyday is really important.
JENNIFER- That’s a good one.
KEVIN-Yeah well you got to show up or nothing is going to happen. I always have ideas on what I want to achieve…but zeroing in on the idea….I don’t know…the music is important, It gives me fuel to start creating.
JENNIFER- Are you a early person?.
KEVIN- I have all the freedom to work when I want, but I am mostly 9 to 5.
JENNIFER- Oh wow, thats pretty structured as a artist. Do you do this for yourself to help you.
KEVIN-Yeah so I make sure I do a certain amount of hours I suppose.
JENNIFER-Do you find the studio helps. Im sure you have had studios in which you lived and worked or have you ever had that….
KEVIN- When I first started, in Montreal, coming back from B.C , I had a studio apartment and a little area to paint, it was horrible…because I really needed to leave the house. And when I had it , i would leave the house, go get a coffee and come back. So I felt like I was going to work but It was too easy to take a nap when your kind of like, not sure and you see your bed right there, and your like, let me just go think about it, on my bed, so i can’t do that here…I need a studio
KEVIN-I need see people too as I am social. I have friends in the studio here. Next store.
JENNIFER-yeah i felt that having people around were kind of a plus and minus because I am social I am up like basically spending the whole entire day walking through the studio talking to everyone, and got nothing done.
KEVIN-that happens too.
JENNIFER-but on the plus, you get inspired. you see them working and you talk to them and you see what they are doing and then somehow you take a idea from them.
KEVIN-Its good to see people working, if they work hard. Its good. This space here is very cool to be with other artists and collaborate. Ican also just close my door.
JENNIFER - One of the big questions I have been asking artists. Is why create…sometimes it can be easy and other times it can torturous…
KEVIN-I don't know we create. When I couldn’t afford rent and a bunch of projects fell through and nothing was working, I would ask myself WHY the fuck am I doing this? Why do I want to do this to myself…why do I want to even do this, I could have a job and pay the rent and buy food without worries and for whatever reasons I kept doing it. so its the drive. I don’t know…
I think its part of our psyche….I think some people have more motivation to do something more then others. I just ended up being one of those people who feel the need to express creatively and collectively as humans it has a benefit, ya know its a reflection on our minds and times and its beneficial, it’s just not always beneficial to me and sometimes it is, mostly of the times it is, and I love it. It just been a long and hard road
JENNIFER- So talking about the process and creation….and getting to the points where your like, why even doing this. Like I have done this so much in my life and even with this project. ya know, like what am I doing, why am i interviewing other artists…How do you move past moments of doubts, where your in your studio and your like why? Is there something you do, do you just walk out…go for a walk, turn my canvases around when they are not complete….?
KEVIN-Yeah I do turn my canvases around often, because they just nag at you when you don’t know what your doing…but what do i do to get over that, I don’t know…
Actually at one point, it got so bad..I quit Montreal and everything I was doing and moved to Guatemala. It just didn’t work for so long so I went and packed an lived in Guatemala. Like 7 months.
JENNIFER- I think i know that story…but you got inspired there…
KEVIN- I chilled out…I was started to get super negative towards art, so it was good for me to not put anymore pressure on myself. so i didn’t really do too much art most of the trip, till I was traveling and i had the idea to exchange a mural for a stay, and I tried it in couple of places and then I was in Costa Rica. Where I painted for fun. At a friends restaurant, there was some shutter doors, so I painted them. in exchange for some food in his restaurant. He really liked it, so it kind of snowballed. He was opening another restaurant with his cousin and they wanted to pay me to do a mural inside of the restaurant. I wasn’t doing murals at that point. So that was great, so I could keep traveling. and then his cousin had a bar, so I had met the right people and suddenly I was re-invigorated with art.
It wasn’t like I was painting something in my studio and trying to get a gallery to please show so that I might sell it for half the price. It was like a very different process. It was like, can you paint here, and Ill give you money. There is a audience right away there is a exchange right away. you get rewarded right away. Your not like doing something in hopes that you might show it somewhere and it might sell. It was a real turn around so it kind of felt really good and made me feel really good about it, painting large scale was really fun, and that point was a regular, 7 and 8 feet. and it kind of re invigorated myself, and started my path down to murals.
JENNIFER-What do you find your biggest struggle. ? focus?
KEVIN-focus isn’t hard, definitely motivation to do artwork in the studio. My own mind is my biggest challenge. Keeping motivating, staying inspired. Also doing things that are meaningful. Finding things to create that are meaningful is a challenge and balancing my mind. Making sure. I have started climbing which has been really good on my mind. Bouldering, I have to do things like that. In order to function well. Its very easy for me to flop into a depression and nothing good is happening. So I have to really consider that a lot.
JENNIFER- This is a question on bouldering and climbing but I also do that, because I have too much energy and too much on mind and maybe it’s related but do you find, does it keep you present, do you feel?
KEVIN- yeah I super neurotic, and always super hard on myself so when I go climbing. Its very therapeutic, I don’t think of anything, I’m solving problems that are just the wall . Like how do I get there, how do I climb this. So it really makes you present. and it’s really rewarding with all the dopamine. with everything that is released with exercise and I just feel fit and I want to be even fitter so I can climb better. So its a really good motivation. I never was one that would just work out, I found that it was just pointless. with no end goal. I used to do more yoga but now that i have done climbing, I have been climbing more. and it’s also social, I get to see my friends, we climb together,
JENNIFER- So whats next for you ? What do you want to do. do you have murals in mind or projects. ?
KEVIN- I am here for the next month and keep working in the studio, and then head out to Miami to Art Basel, but I probably wont end up going to Art basel.
JENNIFER- Your just going to to go and not participate in it?
KEVIN-I usually go every year and paint a mural in or around windwood. Its like a artist sleep away camp. Its like you go there and you see all these friends you only see once a year or you met here or in the world or there and everyone meets up, and it’s a lot of fun. You work on a project. Last year I worked on the Raw project, which a really meaningful project . The whole wind wood is kind of messed up, Its world example of how to genterfy. really quickly with street art. Its a shining example of developers from around the world and Ive seen it, Ive been in China. Is it true if we bring in graffiti and street art that the property value will raise, the word got out..Its all cause of windwood. so its feels really weird to support that but we try to find something like last year where we painted a elementary school, had a lot more meaning then helping raise property value. so I am going to go there for a couple weeks and then I’m going to go to New Zealand. I was invited to do two festivals back to back, and then I will be spending Christmas and New year’s there.
JENNIFER - Wow fantastic.
KEVIN-Yeah I have never been out there, It will be summer time.
JENNIFER - Words of Advise to emerging artists…what would you say? If you could mentor someone. What would be your top 5..
KEVIN- I would love to know how things work, because I still don’t know how things work in the art world. There is not real rules. In how to become in how to become established. I think one thing that is really important, is too really know, and thats the one thing that kept me going is to know this is the only thing your really going to do with your life. because I decided this is what I was going to do with my life then I was picked up and got back up on the horse, even when I fell super hard. I mean the people who end up doing it and become successful, they just keep doing it. It’s a huge part of it.
KEVIN- I used to have this mantra, I used to always repeat to myself , I need to have persistence, patience and have to persevere, it was like my three p’s. It was like I always had to repeat this to myself . so . I think that it’s really important. If you have been doing it for long enough people end up knowing that you have been doing it, and you have been doing it for long enough, and thats one way to be taken a little more serious over time.
Some people I have met have had been lucky and had breaks. Super easy for them, I mean a lot easier then a lot of other people but it’s just my experience and everyone’s experience will be different. Its really a hard and long road and even though now doing a lot better then I was a few years, I always fear I could just stop, so I am always trying to work hard. but also a huge part of it, I also just want to enjoy life and I want to do things that are meaningful and or I enjoy so thats a huge part of it. I feel like there could have been opportunities to make money, doing what I am doing but I don’t just want to make money I want to be happy. I really think thats what people want more then anything. I know some people want to be famous and make a lot of money doing it and yes we all need to make money, so we can keep doing what we want to do but also I think that its important to keep in mind that you probably want to be happy so keep that in mind.
JENNIFER - Yep that's for sure.