Art Heroes - Design Bureau

“I have this tiger-kill instinct to make art.” – Mike Leavitt

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Leavitt’s Banksy figure from the Art Army series

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Jeff Koons

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David Hockney

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Damien Hirst

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Chuck Close

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Ai Weiwei

 

 

 

 

Art Heroes

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Mike Leavitt turns art world gods into top-shelf action figures

Mike Leavitt will probably create something in the time it takes you to read this. The prolific Seattle-based artist has been building a series of action figures in the likeness of contemporary artists since 2003. He chats with us about the latest recruits in his Art Army series and his biggest design challenge: turning the political into something fun. 

DB: How did the idea for your latest series of Art Army action figures, Royalty, come about?

Mike Leavitt: I wanted to take aim at the top. I hadn't yet targeted the richest, most lionized, living art world heroes. Things got a little strage when Lucian Freud and Cy Twombly both passed away right before my show opened in New York. 

DB: Has your design process changed since you started the Art Army project?

ML: It's evolved into a methodical, process-driven exploration rather than my comfort zone of trial-and-error experimentation. For the new figures, there was deep research and extensive sketching. Making art is fun, and this wasn't. That's why I don't feel like I'm really just making 'art' anymore. 

DB: Do you have a favorite design challenge?

ML: It;s an über challenge: blending politics and functionality. Designing a functional object is difficult enough, and people don't like confrontational politics. The challenge is designing an object that people want, while making it about something they don't want to hear about. I like to think of this niche as adult educational toys. 

DB: Which designers and artists are inspiring you right now?

ML: Tom Sachs is very interesting to watch. He's really enveloping a whole new working process. Ai Weiwei is interesting for a totally different reason. It's not original for an artist to fight the power so boldly, but for an artist inside the phenomenon known as present-day China is quite inspiring. 

DB: What's the secret to being so prolific?

ML: Maybe it's my Norwegian DNA, but I have this tiger-kill instinct to make art, and luckily, it's the name of peace and love. I must've been descended from a Viking ship-builder and not a sword-bearer. 

DB: What's next?

ML: My new show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery opens on November 30, 2013. I'm spending an entire year working on it. If there becomes such a thing as too much hype for this show, it will live up to it.