Praxis International Art is pleased to present Champion of the World, the solo exhibition by Shaun El C. Leonardo (b. 1979, New York). A reception to celebrate the opening will be held at 541 West 25th Street, on Thursday January 10th, from 6-8 pm.
“At the core of my work is an understanding that to properly critique a subject one must do so from the inside out. I have always taken the stance of completely immersing myself in the world of the figure I set out to critique and to become. For past performances, always under the pseudonym of El C., I have risked damage to both body and psyche – training for eight months in the world famous Gleason’s Gym to become an amateur boxer; rising up the ranks of Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre to become a Mexican wrestler; even delving back into my own college football experience in order to take on 10 semi-professional football players; and, most recently, attending the Academy of Tauromaquia in Central Mexico to explore the art of bullfighting. I consciously attempt to transform my body and mind into that of the hyper-masculine archetypes I strive not to mimic but fulfill. By projecting myself as the hyper-masculine hero, I manifest the ongoing tensions between my desires to represent male virility and the vulnerabilities within my identity developed by these images of power. Furthermore, by actually transforming myself into the “superman,” I experience the psychology and pain involved with representing the hero figure while more closely examining the belief systems and social constructs embedded within these ideas of manhood.
From these experiences I’ve produced a variety of work including painting, sculpture, and performance. My focus recently has been on drawing. Many are portraits of the champions that I admired during my childhood and champions who I regarded as the “greatest of all time.” The portraits I create are meant to capture quiet moments in the ring – moments of introspection. Their faces and bodies exude prowess and strength while being battered and evident of pain. They depict how at the end of each champion’s career is an inevitable downturn – a falling from grace.
By drawing these hero-figures, I am looking at them in a reflexive manner—searching for my own worth. These champions represent much more than their greatness in the ring. They serve as a mirror to our own projections of desire, ambition, and failure. The magic we bestow upon these champions is the manner in which we create symbols imbued with our own wishes to be significant and invulnerable. Now at 33 years old, I realize that my own physical ability to participate in these sports is coming to an end. I feel a sense of loneliness—a lack of purpose. In my short time as a wrestler, boxer, etc., I have felt the thrill of the crowd and can understand how mass adoration alters your sense of self.
I have also, however, felt the quiet moments when the performance has ended and
I am left with my own thoughts and failures. Consequently, in these portraits I hope to humanize these icons—to alleviate them from their stature and show how at the end of the day, these champions are just men”.