Street Beast: Artist Leith Kennedy makes the grotesque colourful

Former “twink, drag survivor and impy face” Leith Kennedy loves to show the gritty side of life in his art. His work may be big, bright and bold, but it’s also down right disgusting in the best possible way. Inspired by the stomach churning sights of everyday life, Leith captures these moments with wit and delight. There’s certainly no shame on the cat’s face in Leith’s painting Cheesing, as it offers you a hit (South Park aired an episode where Kenny got high on cat pee and they called it cheesing).  His upcoming solo exhibition, Street Beasts, opens today and showcases twelve new beastly works. We caught up with Leith to talk inspiration, equality and pride.

Q: What makes you want to create art?

L: This is my first ever art interview and I don’t know whether to thank you or give you a perplexed look. I find painting and sketching gratifying. It’s like a great wine, a great dinner, a great … well I’m sure you know what I mean. I have to say that being interviewed isn’t about gratification for me, more explanation and when you look at what I paint, I’d be suppressed if you didn’t demand an explanation! That’s exactly why I create art.

Q: Can you tell us about your artistic process? How do you go from an idea to a finished work?

L: Well, I see something really stomach churning … and then I paint it. Usually it’s a pet doing something very lowbrow, or I just look around me at people’s behaviours -usually low to mid-brow – and there is that inspiration. For example, have you ever noticed that dogs sniff each other as they pass? Imagine if humans did that! I reckon they do, but probably just not outside of my favourite cafes.

Q: What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

L: I think the best answer is that for the past 18 years … I help people. Obscure I know, but I love working for my community. We are not all doctors, we are not all brain surgeons, but we can all help each other. No career is any less or any more important than the next, as long as you are in service to your community.

Q: How has your practice changed over time?

L: I’ve always gone back to big, bold and bright. You just can’t go wrong with that right?

Q: We love your piece Kiss. Is this the way you like to be kissed? What (or who) was the inspiration behind the piece?

L: I could probably offer you a list of people who could answer that question for you far better than I ever could. But in answer to your second question, as a gay artist, I am so excited by marriage equality and for this reason my subjects are genderless, as gender and love in my mind should not really matter – at least in my world! The gritty and wet part about Kiss is the bit I love, as it highlights the non-sexy bits. Never the less we all love a good Kiss don’t we!

Q: What’s the best reaction to you’ve had to your work?

L: Well I was at my local last month – my local being the Ruby Samadhi Gallery, Kincumber – and it was open night, mixed local artists, I was enjoying some bubbly as both my works had sold quickly, and I was un-deliberately standing right in front of my two works, obscuring them. Anyhow, a lady was trying to take a photo and I said, “Oh, would you like me to take one of you and the painting?” (See photo of Good Taste) She said, “Oh my gosh never, I would never be seen with that, whatever that is! I’m trying to capture the exit sign.” Best reaction to my work ever. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Q: You have a show coming up. Can you tell us a bit about it?

L: Well, let me share a sketch (below). Some say this sketch sums up their work, some say it sums up life, and some just say ewwww! But what I love about my next 11 works, which will feature at Brunswick Street Gallery in Fitzroy, as well as on online gallery Bluethumb, is that they are bold, brash and big! Watch this space.

Leith Sketch

Q: Who are your heroes?

L: Just two, one washes my clothes, but I never let him cook! The other would never know, and would laugh if I told her!

Q: On Bluethumb you tag your artwork “Gayart”. There are over 1,000 artists on Bluehtumb, but only you, Kim Leutwyler and a couple of others use LGBTQ tags on your artwork. Any thoughts on this?  

L: Well I don’t know Kim, she seems very cool (Kim email me!), and whilst I can’t speak for Kim, I can say that I am quite proud to be a member of the LGBTQ community and since I’ve gone public with my art, almost like coming out, I’ve found a warmth that I’ve never experienced. Yes you get the criticism and there are just so many experts, but I affiliate creation with my “gay side” and I’m proud to connect to my LGBTQ family and tag my stuff because our community is very special.

Q: Are there any LGBTQ artists out there making work you love at the moment?

L: Honestly, right now I adore Kelly-Anne Love. Kelly-Anne is my official fag hag. We are planning something exhibition wise in 2016.

Q: What’s the story behind the Three Sisters Series?

L: Well as a former twink, a former drag survivor, a former impy face, I have great memories of three drag queens [at the Imperial Hotel that week after week made me smile and giggle. They are the three sisters. I’m a little scared to name them – I reckon I’d litigate based on my interpretation of their big hair alone!

Too much smoke luv? by Leith Kennedy (part of The Three Sisters series)

Too much smoke luv? by Leith Kennedy (part of The Three Sisters series)

Q: Is the Imperial Hotel still your venue of choice for a big night out?

L: I read with both sadness and understanding about the Imperial’s 2015 challenges. I definitely think the new owner needs a “Leith Kennedy on Canvas” or two as after all – every wall deserves colour!

Q: How has the scene changed over the years?

L: I wish I knew. These days I love good company, great coffee and great Veuve Clicquot – in any order! I wish we would all be a little friendlier to each other – you Melbourne people seem to be far better at it. One of the very special things I’ve noticed is that I’ve made more friends at art openings then I ever did in a club.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

L: Be kind, and if you are kind, be kinder to you walls.

Leith Kennedy

Leith at his last show.

Street Beasts – solo exhibition by Leith Kennedy

Opens Friday, November 13th @ 7pm

Brunswick Street Gallery


Leith Kennedy’s art is available to buy online here.  

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