Though it may seem like it, the current show on view at Oakland’s Athen B. Gallery is not a group exhibition. The large variety of works in All of the Things, made in a plethora of different mediums and with different stylistic and thematic approaches, are all derived from the singular yet eclectic creative mind of artist Leighton Kelly, in what the gallery calls a “solo group exhibition.”
It’s quote astounding to realize that a six-foot-tall sculpture of a woman-cupcake hybrid, a painting of a Jesus-like figure on a vintage liquor bottle, and a black-and-white print of two human silhouettes having sex superimposed onto a cat are all made by the same mind, but they are. The breadth of Kelly’s work on view is less of an attempt to confuse the viewer than it is an accurate reflection of his art practice and philosophy on how he believes art should be made:
“You see, I have this obstinate streak which came about after a brief and harried brush with art school and its insufferable mantra, ‘find your voice, stick with one thing, and master it,'” he explains to Creators. “But why? Do you know why? Why would they propagandize such blasphemous balderdash?”
Not one to buy into what he perceives as art school brainwashing, he forged his own path: “I have a tendency to switch mediums, genres, styles, and concepts whenever I get inspired and have perfected the art of giving zero fucks most of all,” he jokingly adds. “Now, it’s just [a] habit to try out new things and to get deep into new and different avenues of expression.”
That’s not to say everything in the show is a distinctive, singular artwork apart from the rest: “In the beginning, it was just about showcasing a little bit of all the things I had gotten engulfed in, but as I became inspired to make a more complete body of work for each, I began to notice subtle themes emerge, which interwove itself throughout the entire show.”
Many of the interconnected themes Kelly speaks of are personal connections or happenings that link the works together: “For instance, I began the miniature slum dioramas as a meditation on impermanence after I found that old wooden doll house in a trash pile on a corner near my studio in west Oakland,” he reveals. “I took it home and it just sat there for a few days until I thought that it ought to have some local graffiti on its sides just like all the buildings I live next to.”
The cycle of creative connectivity did not end there: “Then, because I live in an area where there are always massive, evolving piles of trash appearing and disappearing and old houses often caught on fire or just fell over, I thought I ought to make the dollhouse appear more local to fit my experience in the outside world,” tells Kelly.
“Soon, I was sitting in front of that little house and making tiny Starbucks coffee cups for hours, and then smashing them between my fingers and tossing them in the corner of one of the rooms,” the artist adds. “It was so liberating; I had no agenda or message. It was just a fine release of creative energy for no reason.”