“I didn’t know who Leonardo was until eventually I went to Catholic faculty,” says American artist Leonardo Drew. “Before that, my name experienced just obtained me overwhelmed up at public college. So that is one issue I owe to those nuns. The a person thing . . . ”
Drew, it turned out, shared not just a title but an extraordinary expertise for drawing with the Renaissance polymath, though his inventive name, seamless and sustained for extra than 30 years, derives primarily from his explosive sculptural function.
Now 61, imposingly tall and slender and often sporting a dashing leather-based cap, he has demonstrated at important establishments which includes the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington and the Hammer in Los Angeles he has a sprawling long-lasting installation in the Harvey Milk terminal at San Francisco airport and in 2019 he laid 100ft of adorned carpet in New York’s Madison Sq. Park — a crumpled metaphor for property and sanctuary — along with a mini cityscape manufactured from wood blocks.
“Had to be very careful there,” he says of the park, which is framed by the Flatiron and the Empire Point out Structures. “You’re in the existence of monsters like that, you need to make concessions to your environment — or you’ll get the shit kicked out of you.”
Drew’s future context is the decidedly un-park-like atmosphere of Unlimited, the area of Art Basel that normally takes place in a gritty hangar of a corridor and is focused to super-scaled operates. If Drew confronted iconic buildings in Manhattan, below the neighbours will include Rachel Whiteread’s chic “Untitled (Stairs)” from 2001 and Isa Genzken’s creepy arrangement of dolls underneath solar umbrellas from 2007. But there is little dread that Drew’s assemblage — of hundreds of shards of painted plywood that sputter off the wall and seem to be to shatter and spin across the flooring — will be disregarded. His function has a pent-up electricity and magnetism, an atomised complexity that attracts viewers to it.
I very first met Drew in London previously this 12 months, a number of several hours after he finished putting in an exhibition in Goodman Gallery’s tasteful white dice. Sculptures bristled energetically on the partitions: black-coated timber fashioned into twisted, petrified branches picket panels hairy with finely crafted wooden quills. An installation occupied the complete again wall of the reduced-floor gallery: skinny sticks of painted wooden, types embellished with reels of tape, accretions of wood scraps, a rolled-up ivory-coloured rope carpet, all organized in a grid.
Although they could be mistaken for found objects, the myriad pieces are studio-built, with precision and care, from fresh products, then patina’d with paints and resins, sand and rust. To put in them, he lays them throughout the flooring, then mounts them a person by just one. “I go in with a strategy,” he says of his method, “then you feel the room and you leap in. I come to be the climate and it will take form all-around me.” The ultimate impact is monumental and microscopic, a confection of purchase out of chaos.
Drew appeared a minor nervous that working day in London, possibly tired from his flight, perhaps nervous. It was his important London debut. The subsequent time we communicate, even though, he is in his studio in Brooklyn and unstoppably upbeat. He lives on his personal earlier mentioned the studio, a former garage creating with 30ft-large ceilings on the floor floor. “I really don’t have much of a lifestyle,” he claims merrily. “I will need to be in get hold of with my perform 24/7.” His neighbours, he claims, just can’t seriously make him out, this rangy guy in filthy overalls, who has this massive making and has just acquired the home up coming door. “They’re ham-and-eggers, with regular jobs. But they adore me mainly because they get to use my parking house.”
Drew is applied to chopping an unusual determine. He was born in Talahassee, Florida in 1961, and the family moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut when he was seven. “That was when my mom threw my father out,” claims Drew. Situations have been tricky for him and his four brothers, and his obsessive drawing of superheroes did not impress his harried mom, although it did his mentors at the neighborhood community centre, who experienced his do the job revealed at the nation golf equipment of close by Westport. This introduced Drew to the notice of executives at both of those DC and Marvel comics, Mad Males types who produced the everyday commute to Manhattan. “I was this just one black child in the space, and these white fellas were shopping for my operate,” suggests Drew, who was then 13. “I was properly-qualified in race relations from an early age.”
If Drew hadn’t identified Jackson Pollock in the regional library, he would probably be a star of comedian illustration currently. Instead, he put down his pencils and went to research at Cooper Union underneath Jack Whitten, the radical Alabama-born painter. He commenced operating with dead animals, “to get below the prettified surface area. I was wondering about death, for the reason that it is the tough a single, the not known.” He figured out to remedy hides and cleanse bones and by 1988 experienced created a operate combining blackened feathers, bones, skins and wooden that spoke of deterioration and chaos and reflected everyday living in the assignments, where he’d grown up, and on the streets of New York, wherever he now lived. Robert Longo selected his get the job done for a team display in 1989 named Young Turks. “He explained, ‘You are worthy of the attention,’” says Drew.
Considering the fact that then, Drew has labored in sequence. For a while his preferred product was unbleached cotton, with its embedded narrative of slavery and the American South. He experimented with oxidisation on metal and with burnishing wood. He was inspired by journey — a trip to Gorée Island in Senegal and its blood-chilling remnants of the slave trade a pay a visit to to Machu Picchu resonant with the traces of the ancients.
“I have suggestions, and when they are worked out of my program, I transfer on. From 2004, I just worked with white paper for a although. I’d been rusting and burning issues, but I discovered that the psychological charge of blank whiteness was just the exact same.” He wrapped up bicycles, and guns, and typewriters, hanging them from strings in Boschian tangles, fetishising American daily life.
Traces of far more recent journeys will be seen in his set up at Basel. For the 4 decades foremost up to the pandemic, Drew experienced been checking out Jingdezhen, a centre of porcelain production in the north-east of China. “That was when colour begun impacting my operate,” he says. In 2019, for a clearly show at Lelong gallery in New York, he produced an exuberant set up (“Number 215”) of hundreds of picket sections painted with designs then damaged, distressed and frozen in mid-flight frenzy. Passers-by were drawn into the gallery from the road to leap close to in its energetic power industry.
One particular working day, CBS anchor Anthony Mason walked earlier, and soon later on Drew was in front of the cameras, conveying his artwork to the nation. “We all carry a collective fat,” mentioned Drew then. In Basel, he’s the one throwing it up in the air once again, viewing in which it all lands.