The immersive experience artist gets candid on his multi-media approach to art, his primary influences, and his latest project.
By Lizzy Zarrello.
Sébastien Léon is a French artist, designer, and musician based out of LA. His work comes in various mediums, from painting to furniture design to songwriting. His work often explores concepts surrounding environmental elements and geology. Recently he created an installation for The Great Jones Distilling Company in New York, consisting of sound sculptures, glasswork, and murals. He often creates installations like this by projecting his art pieces in the space using calculated 3D renderings.
Below, Léon opens up about his work and most recent installations in an interview with Mission.
Lizzy Zarrello: How would you describe your artistic style? How has it changed throughout your career?
Sébastien Léon: I don’t have formal art or design training, yet I always had a deep drive to create. When I moved to New York in 1999, I opened a curating studio that produced cultural projects for brands. I used to be the curator for Diesel in the U.S. and then worked with large companies such as Samsung, Audemars Piguet, Audi, etc. This meant working with a lot of artists to create new work all across the media, which ended up constituting my art training. I learned as many crafts as I could: music, painting, drawing, sculpture, furniture design, etc. Over the years, my independent practice turned into more of a creative studio, with a strong focus on mixing disciplines. I don’t care about the divide between the art, design, and music industries, which I find limiting. I also love mixing media, animating a painting, for instance, or making a space react to movement.
LZ: What/who is your biggest artistic influence?
SL: I try not to think about it too much. I work a lot with my intuition, with whatever’s immediately available around me. However, I seem to always gravitate towards geometry, which I play with to find a balance between logic and chaos.
In France- Blois-the little town where I’m from was oddly home to two luminaries: Leonardo da Vinci when he was an engineer/inventor for the French army, and Robert Houdin, the inventor of modern magic. Both have museums dedicated to their inventions and automatons. I think they both definitely had a big influence on me.
LZ: As someone who works through many mediums – sculptures, paintings, music, etc., which art form do you identify most with currently?
SL: Lately, I’ve been really into glass (of course), with the recent opening of my show at Twentieth. But I’ve also started creating a whole array of tabletop musical sculptures. Their music is self-generating, programmed never to repeat, and is meant to create a presence at home. I am currently showing one – Symphony in Smoke – at a group show at Domicile in LA that plays an ethereal version of the streets of New York.
LZ: How have your glasswork pieces differed from past sculptures?
SL: Generally speaking, I sculpt on architectural software… But with glass, it’s very different; in a way, it’s closer to my painting logic, where I follow a set of self-imposed parameters. More specifically, I apply layer after layer of lines and dots until I find a balance I’m happy with. With glass, my parameters are a “language” of cubes, sometimes adding ropes, which I assemble until I find a final form. I usually assign a function to the piece once the assemblage is close to completion, which I know is rather unorthodox.
I started working with glass in 2019 when Gemfields—the world leader in ethical emerald and ruby mining—commissioned me to create sculptures for Design Miami [which would later become Léon’s Hydrochrom glass sculptures]. I wanted to create a parallel between the transparency of gemstones and the texture of blown glass and thus started a whole exploration of the world of glass blowing. Over time, I became particularly drawn to our blue glass because its texture reminded me of a crashing wave of the surface of the ocean.
LZ: How did you come up with the idea for the space at Great Jones Distillery?
SL: The Great Jones Distilling Company is the first Manhattan-based distillery since the Prohibition. They make whiskey through corn fermentation, using only ingredients that come from New York State, and wanted to speak about the whiskey-making process through an art installation. My work happens to be very elemental, and I ended up creating an installation named “Alchemy” that draws a parallel between the process of distilling whiskey and the earthly forces that created the particularities of New York State geology, from the cornfields that I tried to capture with an organ-like field of copper tubes, to ice age remnants mirrored by my Hydrochrom glass sculptures, to geological layering evoked by large mural paintings. I couple all of this with site-specific light and musical programming.
Images courtesy of Sébastien Léon