Shaun El C. Leonardo's "Death of a King" Opens at Praxis Gallery

Chinon Williams

Last night's opening at Chelsea's Praxis Gallery was busting at the seams with people trying to get a glimpse of the of exceptionally talented Shaun El C. Leonardo's new show "Death of a King." Consisting of self-portraits, the show is filled with hyperbolic images of male strength -- warriors in armor, hulking sports players and superheros -- that are also elegant, frail and explore the complexities of both masculinity and religious iconography. We chatted with the up-and-coming art star about superheroes, growing up in Queens and what to expect from him next.

You grew up in New York. Did that influence your work at all?

My art work is a direct reflection of my own upbringing in Queens and is a sort of hybridization of the different elements that make up my background, wether it be cultural or racial. All the drawings have direct reflections of street wear that is in Queens. I went to an all-boy Jesuit high-school, and had a very catholic and Latin upbringing. Queens taught me the rules of the street, and where I learned that race and ethnicity meant very little because everyone was different and mixed. It was difficult to define who you were. My work reflects that mixture of forming your identity that made me complex but seamless at the same time.

Why did you decide to make all of these pieces self-portraits?

All my work is self-portrait. They are exaggerated, of course, images of myself from a hyper-masculine viewpoint. It was important to start off with myself, so I could investigate my childhood role models in order to question how they now fit into society.

Who were your role models? 

I am half Guatemalan and half Dominican. Growing up in Queens with immigrant parents,  there was a very apparent distance between their culture and my own. So I really looked upon pop culture as a source of role-models. I would grasp on to anyone who looked like me.  Wrestling, boxing and superheroes are very dear to my heart because I am fascinated by that hyper masculine figure, but also because of my own athletic background and body type.

What sports do or did you play?

Football, for over a decade of my life. Half of my work is performance and sports are directly manifested in the work.

And when will we be fortunate enough to see one of your performance art pieces?

I am happy to say my next performance will be my first one-man play scheduled for this December here in NYC.

Death of a King is on display at Praxis Gallery through Nov. 27

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