An artist and a philosopher, Leif doesn’t just make illustrations, he sculpts experiences. Each of his beautiful and dramatic pieces delves into the inner workings of the subconscious mind. Leif uses his art as an outlet to explore his inner self and the “psychedelic experience”, (his definition of that later). Though his choice of diction might correlate with that of a hippie, Leif emphasizes that his goal is to distance himself from those stereotypes, as he believes that there is something to be learned from our subconscious. His images truly are captivating – perhaps you can work on getting in touch with your inner psyche while you’re being mesmerized by his work!
Check out his views on his art, humanity, and mountaineering after the jump!
How did you become the artist you are today? When you first set off on that path, did your family support you? Are there any other artists in your family?
I became an artist as a way of putting image to my thoughts and imaginations and as a means of exploration of the self. Its a tool really, a means of self adjustment and reflection. I set off on the path from a young age, I always had an intense imagination and would spend all my time dreaming, drawing, building Lego, reading and writing, so I think what I do now is just a continuation of that time.
My family has always been supportive of what I do, especially my mum, who has recently been pursuing painting and sculpture and has been doing some amazing stuff.
Many of your works, such as “Pineal Gland” depict fantasy landscapes that you’ve created through photo manipulation; what fuels your ability to create these fictive places? You’re currently working in Melbourne; do your surroundings affect your art?
I believe that what I surround myself with has had an effect on my work, not just location, but people and information. I try to be as open as I can to different ideology and points of view, which I may not understand or agree with. I really think knowledge is a terrific means for discovery and progression.
What fuels the creation of these perplexing worlds I honestly cannot say for sure. Thoughts and ideas seem to be floating around out there in the collective ether, maybe that’s why there are similar movements in art and music across the planet at the same time… and the creation is just different personal representations of these ideas…?
I usually start with a concept that I want to examine and scrutinize in more detail, and my work is the product of me unfolding these riddles and putting meaning to them.
With ‘Pineal Gland’ I was reading Rick Strassman’s book ‘The Spirit Molecule’ in which he hypothesizes that DMT, a powerful psychedelic, produced in the pineal gland of the brain and released in large doses when a person is approaching death may account for near death experiences, or the releasing of the soul. This drug is also released on the 49th day of fetes development, which Strassman attributes to the beginning of the soul. So I mulled this over for a good 6 months and this piece is based on my thoughts and feelings of this idea that the soul is released and returns to a physical form.
How do you start designing? Do you have any ritual or practice from which you draw on when you start bigger projects, (do you like working by hand in addition to digitally)? What was your process in designing “Coagulated Physique”?
I usually start with an idea which I either sketch, write down or preserve in my head, then begin an extensive search for images, photos, cut-outs, textures anything which I think may help form the idea. I have a large image library to draw from and am forever collecting and adding to this bank.
Then comes the hard part actually making the first mark, this is all about getting into the right headspace. For me, I use music as a way of submerging myself, letting go of the idea enough to explore the possibilities without a preconceived notion of how it should turn out. Sometimes this comes easy other times its much harder to find, the mistakes I make often lead me in new directions toward a finished piece.
With ‘Coagulated Physique’ I was looking through lots of old magazines and weird porn sites for strange imagery (which my girlfriend thought was totally suspect). I wanted to cut and mash up the human form to create new unrecognizable structures whilst keeping subtle elements of human parts in the mix. This in an attempt to illustrate our cultures obsession with the way we look and the reliance on materialistic values. On the flip side, I wanted to explore the dimensional shift I believe needs to take place for humans to gain greater awareness and understanding of ourselves, dropping our focus on the exterior and ego and moving it inwards.
On your site you only have one hand-drawn piece posted, (“A Soft Spirit”), and the rest of your works appear to have at least in part been created using a computer. What has drawn you to the digital media you work with now? How does it appeal to you over other mediums?
I really enjoy working in all forms and will hopefully be posting some sculptural projects soon. I do miss the tangible feel of working directly with your materials as opposed to using digital methods. I use digital methods as a means of obtaining more clearly the vision I have, it seems natural in a weird way to me.
I want my work to transcend its medium, I don’t want the viewer to say “Oh that was done in Photoshop or digitally.” I try hard not to make them look like digital works and more forged from some unknown future craft from the cosmos!
I think this medium is in its infancy and not respected as much as other traditional types of creation, like a lot of other approaches preceding it. I liken it to electronic music, people who make beats like Flying Lotus or Gaslamp Killer, they take all these different samples and mix them up into something new and unique. I try to do this with my work, take lots of different imagery and digitally collage them into new compositions.
Speaking from my own experience, the creative process is both a joy and a trial. How often do you hate what you’re doing, and conversely, how often do you love it? What do you do when you get stuck?
Yes it can be a bit of an enigma at times! I always love what I do, I just have to let the ebb and flow of creative juices come and go. The only time I dislike certain areas is when you are put under a deadline or a set of criteria that doesn’t match what is actually feasible or being forced to create rather than just letting it happen. This is how commissioned or commercial work can suffer, but in these situations I always find a way to make it happen, change the rules slightly and make it fun.
When I get stuck I go for a walk or do anything removed from the creative process. Part of being a designer and artist is always thinking, thinking about everything around you in an inventive way, and switching this off can be quite hard but very beneficial for great outcomes.
When nothing is coming I always put on certain music, which helps me let go and get a bit wobbly. Bands that are always there for me (lately) are CAN, German Oak, Sun Araw, Nue!, Sweet Smoke, Fly Lo, a lot of long songs with peaks and troughs and not too much singing or music which is cyclic in nature like a lot of traditional eastern music.
But back to the question, I always love what I am doing and I often stop and think about it and am blown away at how lucky I am.
Do you create for yourself, or do you do so for others? Do you have an intended audience, and if so, how does that influence your art?
For myself. And if other people enjoy it and are turned on by it, that makes me smile.
You’re also the co-creator/creative director of And, your graphic design and art direction studio. How does your work differ when it’s commissioned versus when you have complete creative freedom?
With commissioned work there is usually a brief and time constraints, but I use a lot of the same approaches across both studio and personal works. Developing creative ideas and communicating this idea visually, typographically or however it is, in a way, which engages its audience whilst always attempting to push boundaries and, of course, with commissioned work, please clients. So the difference may be in the concept or brief and therefore subject to different creative outcomes.
You work often in black and white, I love how that contrast brings so much drama to “Ancestral Perception.” What else would you say unifies your work; how would you describe your aesthetic?
I often use symmetry in my work as a way of mimicking nature and to re-iterate a need for balance. Love, magic, adventure, energy, time, technology, mystery, heart, peace, transcendence, soul, spirit, awakening, consciousness and nature, are some of the themes which bind or unify my work. Aesthetically, my work has a sense of romanticism and magic about it, I really try and grab your attention and then let it sink, float or shoot the viewer into another world/time/vortex. Its my attempt at expressing a feeling or place I know exists but can’t tell you verbally about… the place we are all searching for. I do love the effects of black and white, as you say it brings a drama and a sense of immediateness, it gives a feeling of a timeless place, good and evil, dark and light. It’s pure energy. One theory suggests colour is ‘a dynamic interplay of darkness and light.’ These polar opposites on the spectrum may reveal everything and nothing in between.
Much of your work focuses around symmetry, often looking as if it’s being viewed through a Kaleidoscope (most notably in “Psychonaut”), what is it about this type of balance that is appealing to you?
As I said above I am trying to mimic the different types of symmetry in nature to extend to the viewer the idea that we need to pay more attention to nature as a source of life and harmony. Symmetry is also proportionally pleasing and a reflection of beauty and perfection. Art, religion, architecture, mathematics and music all use symmetry to play to these ideals, it really helps me get across some of the concepts I am pertaining to understand and convey through my work.
In your about section on your site, you said you like to explores “themes of connectedness, the relevance of nature and the psychedelic experience.” Much of your imagery, (such as in “Tame Impala”) and titles speak to that theme. Why is the psychedelic experience important to you, and what do you wish to communicate about it?
When I say “Psychedelic experience”, I mean ‘the perception of aspects of one’s mind usually unavailable to ordinary waking consciousness, or by the creative exuberance of the mind liberated from its ordinary restraints’, an unknown experience. It always conjures up connotations of drugs and hippies and I am trying to remove my work from that as I’m interested in these altered states of mind and the knowledge and wisdom one can receive from these places.
I am especially interested in technology and the internet as systems that distribute free information. I also believe we need to start paying attention to nature as a system that governs our lives. One of the biggest problems humans face is a delusion and devaluation of time. Instead of focusing on natural cycles we have forced an un-harmonious view of time upon ourselves, which has put us out of alignment with natural movements. The importance of a single moment is special and the gift that we are alive and able to experience it is a great thing indeed.
Several of your pieces, including “Spectral,” “Ancestral Perception,” “Vagabond,” and “Coagulated Physique” hauntingly center around eyes. What inspires you to so often depict eyes in your art works? What place do they have in your exploration of the psychedelic experience?
Eyes are a symbolic personification of the ‘spiritual’ in my work. The third eye is the intuitive or eye of the soul, which sees all things. I also use it as a way of peering into the future. Sometimes I use them to represent the human element in my work or the aspect of time.
What are your other interests; do you bring them into your art? Have you ever considered doing anything else?
I’m really into music. I’ve never been very good at playing anything but I love the power of music and its abilities. When you think of all the different art forms music is the one I think that has reached most people. Why is this? I’ve been thinking about this lately. I love to travel, go swimming and I’ve also started doing yoga. The simple things are becoming more enjoyable for me slowly and I definitely bring all of these interests into the mix, I always did want to be a Volcanologist or a Mountaineer.
On your site, you mentioned that you attempt to “coerce the viewer into a realignment with themselves and their surroundings.” Do you think people have lost touch with themselves and with their natural surroundings? How does your work attempt to reconcile that disconnect?
I really do think we have lost touch with ourselves and our surroundings, I myself feel as if I don’t spend enough time getting to know my inner-self. I like the idea that each of us are our own Gods, and therefore have all the wisdom and answers we will ever need.
My work intends to just put some of these (above mentioned) concepts on the table in a hope that by viewing them it will spread an awareness to more people so we can all work out the solutions together collectively as a species.