Autobiography of john leon

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I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio ten months after my parents, Pete & Mary Leontakianakis (name shortened to Leon at immigration) arrived from the village of Geraki in southern Greece.  I became enamored of sculpting in art classes at Walnut Hills High School.  Thinking that sculpture would be a life-long hobby, I attended the University of Cincinnati, pursuing medical field studies and getting certified as a respiratory therapist.  While there, I took a few art classes as electives and later at the Cincinnati Art Academy.  Private studies with sculptors Jay Bolotin and Walter Driesback inspired and encouraged me to make sculpting my full time occupation in 1980.  By 1985 I was able to quit my part-time work in respiratory therapy to pursue sculpture full time.  Starting with exhibits at Greek Festivals, sidewalk shows, and art fairs, I slowly grew into exhibiting my work in national and international shows and in galleries and museums; and to doing private, public, and corporate commissions.

My first large scale commission came when the wildlife artist, John Ruthven, asked me to sculpt an eagle from drawings he had done for the Stalag Luft III Prisoner of War Memorial at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, in 1996.  Since then I have done many commissioned bronzes and stone or wood carvings for clients from Colorado to Maine and Costa Rica to Canada and Greece.  My own self generated, creative works (over 500 hundred bronzes, several dozen wood & stone carvings, and countless gypsum casts) are in collections in Saudi Arabia, England, Greece, Costa Rica, Australia, the US, and Canada.

I taught stone carving at the Cincinnati Art Academy’s Community Education Program for five years and now teach stone and woodcarving, clay modeling, and mold-making privately at my studio in Sharonville, Ohio.  I am an exhibiting member of the National Sculpture Society and the Cincinnati Art Club where I also served on the Board of Directors.

My wife, Sarah and I have two children.  I am an avid bird-watcher, and I play flute and sax with the guys on weekends.

About My Work

My work is wide ranging.  My deep love for sculpture has lead me to explore many media and styles, which are embedded in my psyche.  From classical realism to non-objective, abstract expressionism I feel like the entire world history of art is at my disposal to borrow (steal!) from.  I am free to choose whatever stylistic approach I desire that I think will best convey the meaning and emotions of a piece.  Most often, I don't consciously choose the subject or the approach--it just comes to me in the way that seems right.  On the conscious side of creating a piece, I compose my work in ways that will enhance the meaning of the piece for me and anyone else who looks at it.  I believe that humans respond to forms in nature in innately programmed ways--that we emotionally and intellectually respond to abstractions such as vertical or horizontal, smooth or textured, curved or angular, slim or squat, etc. in typical ways, and I use those qualities to make the feeling/idea/thing that inspired me into a thing that will communicate that inspiration to you.

My sources of inspiration, subject matter, if you will, are also varied.  Music is a big one, especially jazz.  I often make sculptures to combine the physical appearance of the musicians and their instruments with what I think the music "looks" like--is it angular, flowing, jagged, repetitious, happy, sad, angry, etc?  Starting with an idea--for example, a bassist playing at a feverishly fast tempo (Basic Motion IV)--I proceed much the same way as a jazz improviser does in creating his solo; as I move the clay around, one form suggests another and the piece develops (except a jazz solo takes minutes while a sculpture can take weeks, months, years even).

Nature is also a source of inspiration.  I usually use it to convey some combination of spiritual or philosophical ideas and to explore sculptural form for its own sake.  For example, I'm an avid bird watcher, and yet I have rarely created realistic sculptures of birds.  But I'm very interested in using the subject matter of birds to get ideas and emotions across.

And, of course, the human figure is also full of potential for expressing ideas and emotions and for the exploration of form, from realistic portraiture to abstract gestural, or action based sculpture.  My Mountain Women series--draped, reclining figures, echoing the shapes of mountains and other land forms, are for me, an exciting balance of realism (the figure) and abstraction (the freedom I have to arrange the draping to affect the mood of sculpture).

No matter what the subject, medium, or style I choose to work in I have a deeply engaging love for the physical and mental acts of sculpting and I feel happily blessed to be immersed in it for a life-long pursuit.