It All Began with Futura

Leonard McGurr’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge and truth sparked a career that has spanned over forty years. From graffiti art, to graphic design, to illustration, photography, clothing design, and the written word, he has conquered mediums with the tenacity of an eternal student – one who has long known that the key to growth lies in a willingness to evolve and live boldly. Here, McGurr revels in the paradox of man with talk of the old Clash days, the current state of abstract art, and his upcoming projects. We’re all ears.

Futura Dos Mil Artist Graffiti pioneer NYC

You’re a man who wears many hats; is it safe to say that you’re currently working on a slew of projects?

In summary of recent events: yes, it’s very safe to say. multiple and random. I’ve been on the Hennessy campaign since the summer and we’re only now moving to the global portion with the Colette event in paris. in the coming months, which is very exciting, Moscow, Tokyo, Lagos and Sydney are on the horizon. Talk about upgrading that hat collection. Then there was that exhibition in September at Valmorbida… no big deal. the Samsung Galaxy note ii release party. Wow. Finally, a potential beats by Dre thingy — very soon.

Do you find that you work best when you have more than one thing going on at a time, or is it more about taking advantage of opportunities when they arrive, and perfecting balance?
Working on all these projects while also trying to micromanage my own wants and desires has always been the challenge. What I do has always come very easy to me. I can usually calculate my own actions, and prepare for anything that arrives based on practical experience and some wisdom. What I can’t calculate or depend upon is the actions of others.

In the past, you’ve said that though grateful for the life Futura has given you, you have reached the point where you need to separate him from Leonard McGurr, as he is only one aspect of who you are. Do you still feel that way?

Forever and ever. it’s very important for me to not live there, in the identity of the artist. If you didn’t know me, and found my visual databases online, you might ask yourself: ‘where’s the artwork? Where is the me, me, me, where’s the artist?’ as in, please look at my portfolio, my resume, my accomplishments. I’m totally not that guy. What a bore. And it seems everyone is doing it. there’s more to life than chasing money.

Do you believe Walt Whitman’s quote about a person’s opposing personalities — “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” — is one that applies to you as an artist? Does your desire to distinguish yourself from Futura stem from the feeling that you’ve learned all there is to know about him, the idea that you don’t necessarily share his values anymore?
I am a walking paradox. I chose this activity more than forty years ago, to get recognition and respect. Now I would wish to escape from that position from time to time. A few years ago I went on a
cross country mission to visit and document all the major league baseball stadiums. The working title is “Cathedrals of the GAME.” It’s more than 500 pages by Leonard Hilton Mcgurr. Please excuse the third person. I would hope this event will allow a new audience to discover me and my work, which in this case has nothing to do with that artist known as Futura.

What facets of Leonard McGurr are you now looking to explore?
Creating a true alter ego. Mr. Mcgurr in theory will become Bruce Wayne.

Leonard McGurr Artist Graffiti pioneer NYC

When looking for inspiration, you’ve made mention of preferring to dig past the superficial, into the complications and negatives in people. Social media now affords everyone the chance to create the best version of themselves, in a way that glosses over the very flaws that add depth of character. Has this made it harder for you to reach those places?
Never that. I know who I am, who we both are, and I am very comfortable doing the balancing act.
What are your thoughts on the current state of abstract street art? In nineteen eighty when I painted the break, subway cars, I looked to define myself as someone who was searching for a new direction in aerosol art. What I was also doing was trying to paint what someone named Futuratwothousand might paint. Sci- Fi shit. The fact that everyone would define me as the abstract expressionist was a bonus and proved to be almost prophetic. Subsequent to that, I was referenced to Kandinsky and Klee… Malevich and Mondrian. I had never heard of any of them. Today, and since the new millenium, we see the approach to abstraction has created a large following. Encore.

Do you enjoy the direction it’s taken?
I am very encouraged and feel the baton has been passed — to those willing to run with it. The site Graffuturism is the Mecca. Honorable mention to Poesia and Delta.

Are there any up-and-comers in the game that you admire? Any that remind of a younger version of yourself?
I must mention the Italian artist Blu. He’s just so next level. In my opinion, the crown prince of this entire phenomenon.

Your work with The Clash is legend, from the lyric sheets and sleeve notes you made, to the pieces you created during performances while on tour. What do you remember most about that time?

How much Joe Strummer had an effect on me. As an only child from a somewhat broken home, I was always looking for smart and strong role models. Four years in the military turned up a few, but the brainwashing wasn’t my thing. Joe was my Yoda, and I could never forget his meaningful words. Shout out to Mick and Don.

What is the biggest difference you see in abstract art in America vs. abstract art in Europe?

The New Futurists. This needs a real panel discussion.

Your new book is slated for release in 2014; what focus has it taken?

Work in progress…

Agnes B. was and is a huge supporter of art in general, and yours in particular. How fused are art and fashion to you? Do you believe they can truly be one, or do they run along in tandem, completely different but intertwined?
Let me please say I have an eternal flame for Agnes. She was perhaps the most instrumental figure in getting me back into my artwork in the late eighties, providing me with a studio in which to work. More than a quarter century later, she’s still supportive and without her presence my French connection wouldn’t be what it is. As for fashion and art, they constantly cross-pollinate. Look at the clientele or cast of characters. From popup exhibitions to hi-brow functions; from hipsters vs. sophistos, everyone is working their best look.

Writing, graffiti art, clothing design, illustration, and graphic design are just a few of the mediums you’ve touched in exploring your talent. Is there one that you find comes easier to you? Is there one that you feel more connected to?
At the moment it’s photography. Next month the Deftones have a new album being released, Koino Yokan, with the cover shot by your humble narrator. As they are with Warner Brothers, there’s something subversive about a check signed by Mr. Bugs Bunny.

You’re indeed an icon, an artist who has been a pioneer in the game, and active since adolescence. What fuels you to continue?
That’s very nice of you to say, though I truly believe I’m only one of many moving parts. The motivation is to evolve as a human being.

What is your WILD Wish?
To create a foundation that would benefit at-risk students. Perhaps a charter school with a premium on an art education. How cool would that be?

text by: Diana Cenat

photography by: Jeffery Jones

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