Interview | Leo Valenti: Celebration and the Human Brain | Sabrina Sigler

Updated: Apr 8


Leo Valenti is a 22-year-old freelance mixed-media artist based in Glasgow. His work explores the human psyche and how we form relationships with each other. The main theme being celebration - a homage to his trans and queer identity and living fully as himself.


Inspired by the works of Sophie Calle, Cindy Sherman, and Henri Matisse these influences can be seen throughout his colourful and vast portfolio.


I have been a fan of Leo's work for sometime and was honoured to speak to him about his gorgeous work.

Image Description- Line drawing of a torso with top surgery scars, there is a tattoo just below the neck which reads "be free". There are large flowers around the figure and a pink and blue abstract background pays homage to the trans flag.

"Be Free"

Digital

I wanted to really celebrate trans and non binary people who get top surgery and free themselves from the burden of being born in the wrong body. The figure resembles a Roman marble bust, which touches on the fact that trans identities have been around forever and they are something that has stood the test of time.



Q: Can you tell me more about how relationships and the human psyche influences your work?


A: I’m a very visceral person, I create so that I am not consumed by my emotions. It is my way of exercising almost, I am exercising my feelings so that they seem less intense. My art focuses on the human brain, how my own experience with abuse shapes how I form relationships and tackle situations subconsciously.



Q: Would you say that being trans and queer influences your work in any way?


A: Being queer definitely influences my work. I play a lot on how my perception of myself as a trans man differs massively from the way that I am perceived in everyday life, how my reality does not match up to everyone else’s, and how confusing it can be to be constantly misgendered in public spaces.


When I told certain people of my transness, it was almost as if they thought that my life was over. I want to exist as visibly as I can and take up as much space as a queer person as possible. By doing this I have found an amazing community of queer creatives that I am so grateful for.



Image Description- A figure with top surgery scars stretches out of an opening flower, there is a scroll around them which reads "Not Dead, Just Blooming".

"Not Dead Just Blooming"

Digital

This was a response to grief that is often linked to trans identities, I often hear of families saying that they feel like they have lost a child when their kid comes out to them, it is something I have heard so many times myself. It really played with my mind for a while, how can someone say I am dead when I am standing right in front of them, a better, happier me, if anything I was more alive than I had ever been.



Q: Do you have a favourite artist(s)?


A: My favourite artist right now is definitely @sweetcowboyblues on Instagram, an amazing trans artist who makes gorgeous prints and clothing. As well as @tim.peacock on Instagram who creates stunning risograph prints that are just delicious to look at!


Celebration is the encompassing theme of my work. Celebrate your queerness, celebrate your body, celebrate your knowledge.

Q: Does your work focus on any particular themes or issue?


A: Celebration is the encompassing theme of my work. Celebrate your queerness, celebrate your body, celebrate your knowledge. Celebrate getting up in the morning and living life as best you can despite the trauma and the abuse. Live fully in yourself as yourself.


I find myself telling stories through how my art physically makes you feel, be it through shapes or colour or texture. I tend to go less towards the figurative and more towards the emotional. With that being said I also love the more illustrative prints that I sell, I love drawing queer couples being in love.



Q: Do you have a favourite piece of yours?


A: My favourite piece that I have made so far is actually for an exhibition that I am working on, it looks at how I am only just starting to introduce boundaries in my daily life. As a kid I was constantly having my diary read, my phone looked through or my room ransacked. I didn’t know that I could have things that belonged to just me. This affected me all throughout my life, I didn’t know how to say no.


The piece is me as an almost 22-year-old just finding out what my boundaries are, why I need them and realising that I am not accessible to everyone 24/7.


I’m really excited to get this exhibition out, it has a lot of very physical elements which I love. Making my work interactive is a very important factor for me when creating, I am interested in making physical connections with the people that view my art.


I didn’t want to glorify wars and corrupt leaders, I wanted to learn about the world in full.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your background as an artist? How did that happen for you?


A: I left school when I was 16, I hated the fact that someone else was responsible for my education. I didn’t want to glorify wars and corrupt leaders, I wanted to learn about the world in full. School wasn’t for me, I hated not being about to decide my own schedule.


I went on to study Fine Art and Illustration for three years in Glasgow, and again whilst I learned a lot, I found myself being punished for being unable to attend some of the physical classes due to mental health. It felt unjust, especially now that all classes have been moved online with the pandemic, it made me realise that my attendance was just to tick a box. To me it shouldn’t matter where the work was being done, I still managed to get an A.


I left at the end of my third year to pursue my own business and I haven’t looked back since. It was the best thing I have ever done for myself. I have just passed the two year mark of being a freelancer, and I am the happiest I've ever been. I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself, I am responsible for my own success and failure and I have all the time in the world to take on projects and collaborate with other artists.


Art doesn’t have to be expensive; you can create anything you like, there are no rules. Paint on your sleeping gran, on flower petals, on your used crisp packets. It is a privilege to live in a world where art is something that anyone can do.


Image Description- An inky drawing of a flower in black surrounded by expressive brush strokes. The wetness of the page makes the ink swirl together in a dream like way.

"Grow"

Mixed media (ink and acrylic)

I made this along with a series of other prints focussing my intentions on what I wanted for myself, this is my favourite one of the few as I think we all need to remind ourselves that we are growing every day.



Q: What mediums do you work with and do you have a favourite?


A: I work a lot with mixed media, I love texture and layering. I actually always get told off in art galleries for getting too close to the paintings, I can’t resist a good brush stroke. Ink and collage are what I work with the most. Ink has allowed me to be less precious of my work, I love the permanence of it.


Some of my favourite artists, Max Ernst and Cindy Sherman, work a lot with collage and I do it almost in a homage to their inspiration. I love that I am able to marry photography and art together, I can get ripped up, messy textures with a really beautiful photograph.


Art doesn’t have to be expensive; you can create anything you like, there are no rules. Paint on your sleeping gran, on flower petals, on your used crisp packets. It is a privilege to live in a world where art is something that anyone can do.



Q: Can you tell me about you outside of art?


A: Aside from art, and in the true nature of COVID-19 I have been doing a lot of baking. I’m an introvert through and through, so mostly you will find me doing something by myself in a corner. I love to collect, I collect bones and tiny objects that are usually big in real life, my favourite right now being a chainsaw that is about the size of my hand. My smallest item I believe is a tiny paint roller that is the size of a fingernail.


Trying to talk about my hobbies has made me realise what a workaholic I am. Creating really is my job and my hobby and I am trying to not coop myself up so much and get outside more, although the pandemic certainly doesn’t help!



Image Description- A red circle with spaghetti-like fibers intertwined within it. There is vertical and horizontal writing which states "You are never innocent if you are a tory".

"Bloodshed On The Cooncil's Carpet"

Mixed media (microscopic photography and digital)

This piece was made using a microscope on my carpet to photograph the fibres, I then worked on it digitally. The inspiration behind this was the tsunami of political transphobia that trans people constantly have to face, police brutality, the BLM Movement and our right to protest being under attack to name a few. There is a legitimate trauma that comes from all of this hatred in the news that members of minority communities face every day, and this piece was me highlighting that anyone who voted for a Tory leadership, was undoubtedly responsible for the inevitable bloodshed within these communities.


Image Description- A yellow and white CD with a black line drawing of an ammonite fossil sits on top of a yellow CD case, due to the angle the lettering on the case is not readable as only the CD itself is in focus.

Folks' Songs E.P" in Collaboration With Over/At and Artist Jamie Crewe

Digital

I was commissioned by the incredible trans music-making Over/At to format and design their CD for their newest E.P "Folks' Songs". This album features incredible trans artists and some artwork to boot. The CD itself was designed by me, it is an ammonite fossil to represent the debut gig which sadly could not happen in person due to the pandemic. You can buy the album here- https://over-at.bandcamp.com/album/over-at-e-p-folks-songs


Leo is always looking to collaborate with others and to be surrounded by other creatives. He is also the creator of Gravis (Instagram: @gravisproject ) a group exploring grief, which will be featured on Disobedient Online in the coming week.



Instagram: @_meopeoleo / TikTok @meopeoleo /

www.meopeoleo.com /



Words by Sabrina Sigler (editor) and Leo Valenti