We had the good fortune of connecting with Leah Smithson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leah, do you disagree with some advice that is more or less universally accepted?
I disagree with the notion that if success is “meant to be” it will happen. Waiting for opportunities to knock on my door and come to me if it’s “meant to be” is extremely disempowering and unrealistic. It can make a person bitter because they are sitting around waiting to be recognized. It can also make them discredit the hard work that others have put into accomplishing their goals. It is true that some people are at the right place right time & because of that, they find success. But I think that we can figure out where the right places are and make sure we’re there when the right time comes. That is a much better use of our time & energy. To endure the hard work that it takes to accomplish our goals, it’s important that we keep ourselves in a mindful, positive place so that we can enjoy the journey. I truly feel that finding satisfaction in the journey is just as important as finding satisfaction in reaching whatever our idea of success is.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Having moved around as a kid, my style comes from a patchwork of influences from classical painting to cyberpunk. Thru my murals, painting, NFT CryptoArt, & sculpture I often uses nature & portraiture as an expression of the complexities of being human, but I almost gave up art… In my former life, I was training to be a court reporter while working as a graphic designer. Then my dad had a stroke where he lost his ability to communicate & was left confined to a bed. This was his retirement and the time when he was supposed to be traveling the world enjoying his life, but everything was totally different now. Life seemed painful, dark, & unpredictable. Despite what my dad was going thru, he still maintained a sense of joy and positivity. I wanted to live like that, but I thought I needed to be sensible and practical. That’s why I was doing this court reporter training. To help my father’s with rehabilitation, music therapy was used. This was the most effective therapy my father had. Seeing the healing power of our creativity changed my life. I decided to dedicate myself to this, beginning with challenging myself creatively & researching how the arts affect our brain. Even though it felt risky to invest in my art practice at times, now I’m happy to say now I’m a working visual artist using what I’ve learned about art & our brain to inspire and provoke conversations worldwide thru many murals, public art commissions & exhibitions. One of my recent murals was in conjunction with a live event. Since one way we can refocus our outlook is by letting go of the things we can’t do anything about so we can focus on those precious to us, an interactive component was added. People in the crowd were told to take an eggshell filled with food-based pigment powder, write a worry on it, and then let it go by hurling the egg at the wall. It was deeply satisfying to see how the puffs of colored smoke majestically filled the air as their egg burst against the wall and their worry shattered into pieces. The pigment left on the wall was incorporated with the mural painting: A consoling portrait called “Bridge.” As those in the crowd let go of their worries, they built something new and beautiful together. Currently, I’ve been putting together a public art project series, called Haven, to bring life into our neighborhoods that have empty buildings and/or are boarded up because of 2020. It’s a way we all can still stay safe with social distance, but keep joy & life (foot traffic) into neighborhoods until things really open up. There’s studies that have proven that people feel safer, spend more & stay longer when there is public art in the space. My hope for this project is to add a feeling of advancement instead of blight. Art gives me focus & reminds me that life is good. I’m so thankful for my father’s example. It’s moved me to express my power in a creative way and helped me to experience inner peace, joy, and contentment as he has.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
OOooo…On a typical day, we would start with a brunch at Republique on La Brea. Before we would leave, we would definitely take some s’mores bombolini pastries to go for later. After brunch I would take them for a ride on the PCH. I love to hike so we would make our way over to Tunya Canyon Park by Malibu or Crystal Cove State Park by Laguna Beach. Maybe we would grab some snacks afterward at a nearby deli, like Gjusta or grab a burrito for lunch at a place like Sonoritas Prime Tacos and relax on the beach a bit. After enjoying the sunset, we would hit up Pine & Crane if we want something quick and casual or Bestia if we want to take our time eating out. On other days, I love taking my friends to The Getty, the Broad and to some art galleries like Regen Projects, Thinkspace, LAXart, Jeffery Deitch, and Night Gallery. Walking around the Arts District looking at all the murals, visiting Art Share LA art gallery & grabbing a beer at Angel City Brewery is a good day. Checking out Hauser and Wirth, Wurstküche, and playing games at EightyTwo is always fun. There’s no shortage of things to do and new places to discover out here. It’s part of the charm of LA.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I cohost a podcast called “Vessel: Art as a Doorway” with medical professional and ceramic artist, Channing Smithson, and I find myself often referencing an older, but profound book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. She shows that if we have the ability to write, we have the ability to draw. So the reason why many of us can’t draw isn’t because of motor skills, it’s because our mind is getting in the way. Our brain is drawing what we ‘think’ we know instead of drawing what we actually see. If we do this with objects when making a 2D line drawings, imagine how we might do this in other areas of our life. So in addition to it being a practical book about improving your drawing, it was a great introduction into a rabbit hole of learning the neuroscience of how beneficial Art is for us. I use these things in my art to create empathy & open up the viewer’s mind to new ways of looking at things. Also, on Vessel: Art as a Doorway podcast we discuss even more interesting research about art and your brain. We talk about how we put these things to work in our art practice. We also interview some innovative professionals and collectors that are knowledgeable about this subject and are also using this research about the concrete benefits of art and our brain to do groundbreaking things.