Living in Montreal, we are fortunate to be surrounded by incredible street art and pioneering individuals in the scene. Many of us become familiar with the murals and graffiti art in the neighbourhoods we frequent, but what about the minds behind these pieces? We sat down with Kevin Ledo, whose works you’ll likely recognize: from the Golden Tunnel at Old Montreal’s Flyjin to his powerful mural of a Native American woman on Clark Street in the Plateau. He told us about his journey to becoming a full-time fine artist, his artistic process, and the extraordinary story behind his Montreal mural.
Inside his Mile-End studio, which he shares with two other Montreal artists, Kevin Ledo produces his captivating paintings. His subject matter is often the human figure; many of his paintings feature representations of the “powerful, angelic, meditative” woman and cascading curvilinear designs. Kevin’s path as an artist, however, was a bit complicated. Growing up in Montreal’s West Island, he graduated high school and entered a program for illustration and design.
“I knew I wanted to do art when I grew up as a career, but I didn’t really know what avenue,” he told us. He worked as an illustrator/graphic artist for about a year, but realized it wasn’t exactly for him. “I didn’t really like doing work for other people,” he said with a laugh, “and I’m far too sensitive to be a graphic designer or illustrator because somebody’s like, ‘Oh I don’t like this’ and I’m always like, ‘Well, what do you mean? I worked so hard!’”
Kevin quit art altogether and spent a while working in a variety of different jobs before ending up in Taiwan teaching English. It was there that he realized he wanted to do fine art. “I set up a little studio when I was out there,” he told us. “That’s where I started to do a bit of stencil work. I did very little graffiti; more so I did paintings.” He then moved to Vancouver, where he practiced art part-time while continuing to teach English. “And then that’s how it started. I just kept working on it and working on it until I eventually started doing it full time. And I’ve been doing it full time for, I don’t know, five or six years.”
After bouncing between Vancouver, Taiwan and Vancouver Island, Kevin returned to Montreal for a high school reunion. “I was like, ‘well, I’ll go back and I’ll see what it’s like,’ and I stayed.”
“Here in Montreal, there’s a really great community,” he added. “There’s a lot of artists and a lot of people to bounce ideas off of. It’s like a support group. There’s lots of art events happening all the time. So, in that sense, it’s really good.” He also became involved with the well-known Montreal artist collective En Masse and has worked with them on some rad projects. “I’ve worked with them in a few different places like San Diego, New York, Miami,” he said. “A lot of artists [in Montreal] know each other now because of En Masse. We all really enjoy painting together. We all just mess around and joke around and have fun. So it’s a great thing.”
For Kevin, his painting and mural work are two very different entities. “They are quite different explorations,” he said. “Mural work is more specific to the place that it is. I always take the area into account when I’m coming up with something.” This past year he completed three murals in Miami; two in Little Haiti and one in Wynwood Art District, called “Vavo, the Montreal OG.” We love this piece; it pictures his grandmother posed in a b-boy stance with one of Kevin’s hats on sideways, and pretty much forces you to crack a smile. “For me, it was fun, but it’s also about where it is,” Kevin told us. “Its in Wynwood; that’s where all the artists go to paint. There’s [murals from] street artists from all over the world, it’s like a museum there. So, its kind of a conversation to the original culture of street art, which is graffiti.”
Another piece of Ledo’s that we love is right here in Montreal, adding a powerful presence to the Plateau. On Clark between Duluth and Rachel is a stunning portrait of a Native American woman which Kevin did as part of Montreal’s MURAL Festival in 2014. The image is referenced from a photograph by Edward Curtis, taken about 100 years ago in Northern California. “I chose that to kind of bring a presence to the First Nations people in Montreal,” he explained. “For me, it was just this idea that the First People that were here are not even represented in our own city. I wanted it to be a positive celebration.” Not only is there an awesome message behind the work, it is also extremely impressive that he did the entire thing with spray paint. Even more shocking, it was his first time doing a mural using just that. “It was on a wall that couldn’t be painted with a brush,” Kevin said. “That was part of the challenge, and it was a huge challenge because it was a massive piece.”
After the completion of the mural, something pretty amazing happened. Although Kevin had done extensive research on the image initially, he didn’t know who the woman was—only that she was from the Hupa Tribe of Northern California. He posted a photo of his work on his Instagram, and was surprised a few days later when a woman commented saying that it was her great great-grandmother. After some back-and-forth communication with a couple of people in California, he discovered that the woman’s name in the photo was Mary Socktish. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy’,” he laughed. “I did find out that she was a leader, so she was actually one of the more powerful women of the tribe at that time.”
As for the future, Ledo has some pretty incredible things coming up. This February, he is being flown out to the Kingdom of Bhutan, an area South of Tibet, to participate in Bhutan International Festival. “Its pretty much closed off to the world unless you go through a travel agency. It’s going to be crazy!” he said. “It’s actually one of the most dangerous flights, and there’s only, like, 8 pilots in the world that are certified to do it. So that’s pretty huge for me to go that far with my art.” Kevin will be doing a mural himself as well as collaborating with an artist from the area. As with most of his mural work, he plans to do a portrait of a local individual whom he will photograph once he arrives. Right after, he’s flying straight to Cancun for another art festival. “It’s going to be a crazy month.” We’re stoked to see what Kevin produces.
Kevin’s work can be seen locally at Yves Laroche Gallery and Station 16. He is also part of a group show on this month at Galerie ABYSS in Griffintown called Last Year’s Fears, which features tons of great artists. Keep an eye out for more of Kevin’s work by following his Instagram, and check out his past projects on his website!