Interview: Christian Letts at Viola! + Join him Friday September 15th (7-11pm) for a Special Event!!
Christian Letts is a bit of a modern day Renaissance Man, although he probably would prefer to not have that reference. An accomplished solo recording artist, he is best known as one of the guitarist’s for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. (He also plays rhythm guitar, banjo and the mandolin.) What many of his fans likely do not know however, is that this humble man also happens to be quite a remarkable painter and sculptor. His largest exhibit to date, “Pietro” is being held at Voila! Creative Studio now through September 20th. There will be a special reception to meet him and view his work, on Friday September 15th from 7 to 11PM.
Born in London, Letts and his family jumped the pond and moved to Los Angeles when he was almost four years old, and although he has also lived in Brooklyn, Seattle, and Portland, he once again calls LA his home. His interest and appreciation for art began shortly after moving here,
creating his first paintings when he was only four. As a child, he fell in love with the Old Masters, captivated by the dramatic contrasts inherent in the styles of Caravaggio and other 17th century artists. That influence is apparent in much of his work, appearing in dark somber tones and dramatic contrasting effects of light and shadow.
“The tenebrist painters made me realize the power of light, that a canvas can actually glow. Rodin and Bernini made stone soft, that contradiction of physicality infected me, and Magritte made me think through laughter.” Primarily self-taught, he admits his training is mostly from his own obsession and his inner art-geek research, although he currently takes classes from painter Andrea Mosley. The sculpture, he claims, was a happy accident that has “worked out ok so far.”
(Once you see his work, you will understand why I referred to him as humble.)
As a fan of ESMZ’s music, I felt fortunate to catch Letts for a brief conversation about his work. I tell him “HOME” is one of my all-time favorite tunes…
“Alex writes incredible songs and I have been so lucky to be a part of this musical adventure. I think music, painting and sculpture are all born in the same space. Sometimes a song can’t quite get across an idea or feeling, and so painting or sculpture became the choice for the expression, and vice versa. They both need and feed each other.”
Throughout all of Letts work, there weaves a common thread of overcoming darkness. Most apparent in his lyrics on his first solo album Hold Fast, and lesser but still discernable in many of his paintings, are themes of memory and time, strengths and weaknesses, spirits and angels.
“So much of my work hinges and revolves around the punctuations of the beginning and the end – light, dark, life and death. It confronts death head on sometimes. Not in a morbid way, but more in a way of tipping a hat in its direction, saying I see you, and you see me.”
It is always interesting to learn where artists get their inspiration, and especially someone like Letts, who is a very creative force in multiple genres. I had read that sometimes he dreamt his songs. So of course, the next question was, do you dream your art as well? Keep a sketchbook next to your recorder on your nightstand?
“Yeah, these dreams exhaust me some days. I often feel as though there is no sleep, just another place to go when my eyes shut down for the night, or day, depending on when you catch me. I don’t sleep a lot. I think that might make these dreams effect me more, be more real. Fuck, maybe they are real! I always have something near me to either write, draw or record with. I travel with a tiny painting setup in my pocket. Inspiration can be unpredictable, and I like to be ready just in case the spirit moves.“
As his work is so varied, I was also intrigued by his path, and wondered about his favorite medium and subject matter…
“Oil – I love the color, the smell, the feel. I had a phase of only painting the sea, especially in its most powerful and turbulent form, over and over. I couldn’t stop. One day I woke up and realized it had all been a study on power, natural and spiritual. I thought, why not take all this technique I have picked up along the way and use it to paint flesh, do portraits, do time pieces? The subject matter has opened up now, and is broader then before, but I am happy I stayed so focused on all that seascape and sky work for so long.“
The current exhibit at Voila! features some apparent religious undertones. Raised Catholic, Letts from an early age was exposed to Biblical imagery and the tenets of the Church. He began to question the ideology, the lack of tolerance, and specifically the church’s antiquated views on women. His dismay that women are not treated equally began to manifest in his work.
“I didn’t make sense to me since as long as I can remember. I have been surrounded by women my whole life – my Mum, 3 younger sisters, and all their friends. I want them to be able to do whatever the fuck they want to in this life, and not be held back by some bullshit.”
At the end, there is only so much time in the day, and one would assume creative choices have to be made. As a prolific musician and also a fine artist, Letts appears to also be quite adept at juggling, as there is no dilution of his focus in any of his work. The songs keep coming, and the new exhibit is contemplative, dramatic, and quietly genius. But I wondered, one final question – If he had to choose either music or art as a life-long profession, which way would he go?
“Both of them offer the same freedom. I’ll do both, as long as I am here.”
And for that, we should all be very grateful!
There is an artist reception planned for Friday September 15th from 7-11pm. Please join Cartwheel Art at the reception with Christian Letts!
After the reception on Friday, the work will be available to be seen by appointment only. Contact is James Allen at (310)600-7207.
September 8th through September 20th
More details can also be found on the Cartwheel Art Preview
September 15th (7 – 11pm)
Voila! Creative Studio
749 N. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(provided by artist)