He Quit Art School, But Nike Sought Him Out
Christopher de Leon, Otherwise Known As True Visuals, Is On The Way Up

photograph by Ryan Skinner

Christopher de Leon, 31, laughs when asked about his recent work with Nike. “I started smoking again,” he says. Ray Butts, a senior creative director, had seen de Leon’s work at the 1AM Gallery in San Francisco and wanted to hire him for an ad campaign. De Leon didn’t have the time; work and personal issues were pummeling him. However, when a brand like Nike calls asking for the impossible, you don’t refuse—you make a way. De Leon accepted the work, grinding himself down to finish everything for a deadline just days away. A gig with Nike was a big break for someone who never finished art school. De Leon loves wood burning because “you can’t mess up really—you mess up, you scar the wood and you gotta either work with it or start over… It’s a very slow process, a very patient process. Whereas my sketches are just constant hand motion, this is very, very tedious, but I find it very meditative sitting there for hours on end very quiet.”

De Leon loves wood burning because “you can’t mess up really—you mess up, you scar the wood and you gotta either work with it or start over… It’s a very slow process, a very patient process. Whereas my sketches are just constant hand motion, this is very very tedious, but I find it very meditative sitting there for hours on end very quiet.”

photograph by Ryan Skinner

De Leon loves wood burning because “you can’t mess up really—you mess up, you scar the wood and you gotta either work with it or start over… It’s a very slow process, a very patient process. Whereas my sketches are just constant hand motion, this is very, very tedious, but I find it very meditative sitting there for hours on end very quiet.”

Origins
After considering the military and bouncing around art schools, de Leon landed at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco but got penny-pinched into leaving his senior year. He says it came down to whether he “wanted As or wanted to eat.” He has no regrets; he believes he is happier than his peers who graduated, took corporate jobs and have no time for their own work. “You can see it in the hollowness of their eyes,” he says, whereas “I’m happy with every piece of art that I do.” After leaving school, he did live drawings at events, participated in group shows, and promoted himself online, where he is known as True Visuals. His following grew and he now has 10,000 Instagram loyalists. The Nike work further validated him. He was good enough now–the big leagues were paying attention. When a brand like Nike calls asking for the impossible, you don’t refuse—you make a way. The gig was a great first big break for someone who never finished art school.

Artistic Leanings
De Leon’s style is fierce, gritty, and “street,” but bows to the line and form of the academy. Every piece says “don’t mess with me”from a wood etching of the word fuck” (spelled out with hands making the letters in sign language) to stormy-faced portraits. Characters scowl at us as though we’ve caught them right after committing some villainous act (or about to complete it after we look away). In some images, leggy cartoon creatures spew streams of matter out of their mouth. Others lounge and rest their spindly arms, glaring at us from their oversized (or exploding) head. Every character is about to tell you in no uncertain terms to stop staring and mind your own [insert expletive] business. Yes, I have a story, they seem to say, but you aren’t going to hear it anytime soonBut de Leon doesn’t respond to needling on why his characters are so ornery, nor does he shroud himself with their brooding. He wears neutral colors. He is open, mellow, and quick to smile. He is Jekyll.

ChrisDeLeon_80

photograph by Ryan Skinner

De Leon doesn’t respond to needling on why his characters are so ornery, nor does he shroud himself with their brooding. He wears neutral colors. He is open, mellow, and quick to smile. He is Jekyll.

 “For the last three years they’ve classified me under urban contemporary art,” de Leon says. But he’s never classified himself. “I’ve just tried to create what I was feeling at the moment. That’s why you see so many things of mine–sketching, wood burning, sculpting. I want to play around with everything. As long as I’m creating, it’s an outlet for me.”
Quite an outlet it must be. Because even his smiling characters are full of mischief, their eyes doing shifty-eyed dances across sketchbook pages. For such moody work, the creator is surprisingly chill.

What’s Next
De Leon’s favorite artist, Hawaii-based Ekundayo, has acquired the reputation and means to have his own show. “That’s the ultimate,” he says. In pursuit of that goal, he won’t limit himself.
He may be well on his way.

Follow Chris on Tumbler, InstagramFacebook & Twitter


by Jena Binderup

1 Comment

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsInFuxffes
    June 16, 2015

    Marvelous, what a web site it is! This weblog provides valuable information to us,
    keep it up.

    Reply

Leave a Reply