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Installation view of Sébastein Léon's “A Crack in My Cosmic Egg,” 2024

Sébastien Léon Unlocks a Door to the Hypnotic Other Side in Los Angeles

The interdisciplinary artist’s singular works and transcendent performances are in conversation with the lit-from-within city, its spirited communities, and the global creative landscape.

Earlier this year, French, LA-based artist, designer, and musician Sébastien Léon unveiled the labyrinthine, multi-sensory exhibition “A Crack in My Cosmic Egg” at Praz-Delavallade in Los Angeles. At the heart of the presentation was his new book Psychodessins from Hat & Beard Press, which lyrically collages the very personal drawings that ebbed and flowed throughout the show. Upon embarking on a magnetic “Door of Perception,” visitors were beckoned through prismatic waves of the artist’s compelling psyche through sweeping and expressive works of painting and sculpture, a dreamlike automaton, and an illusory wall mural. 

Born in Amboise, France, the birthplace of magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, Léon was a devoted visitor to the local museum offering Leondaro da Vinci’s fantastical inventions, and echoes of surrealism seem to run vibrant in his mind, body, and soul. 

With drawings that conjure practices of the most ardent Parisian Surrealists, as well as forward-thinking notions of psychoanalysis offered by cultural figureheads such as Carl Jung, Léon and his singular works are in conversation with the lit-from-within city, its spirited communities, and the global creative landscape. Buoyant symbols of nature, ancient and contemporary culture, and humanity cascaded through the exhibition, casting audiences under a dazzling spell of reflection and nirvana. 

The show’s ingenious sound sculpture performances have led to ancillary feats this year alongside Wendy Bevan on prepared violin and Adam Crystal on synth, collaged with animated drawings projected onto the artists in real time, bathing visitors in a multi-sensory, creative hypnosis. In addition, alluring new sound sculptures titled Sound Fountains are energized by Léon’s 2010 Golden Horn series, meticulously collecting and reshaping vivid field recordings. 

The prolific, multi-talented artist is highly esteemed for his ongoing explorations with the lush materiality of glass, developing both artistic sculptures as well as functional pieces exquisitely shown at Ralph Pucci

Recently, Whitewall visited the innovative and imaginative Léon in his studio to speak about the crack in the egg through which the light comes in, living and working in the city of spiritual quest, and our profound, intermingling roots. 

Installation view of Sébastein Léon's “A Crack in My Cosmic Egg,” 2024 Installation view of Sébastein Léon’s “A Crack in My Cosmic Egg,” 2024, courtesy of the artist and Praz-Delavallade, Los Angeles.

WHITEWALL: “A Crack in My Cosmic Egg” marks your first solo presentation with Praz-Delavallade in Los Angeles. How is the intimate gallery space an ideal vessel for this hypnotic journey through the many facets of your psyche? 

SÉBASTIEN LEON: I started making these drawings during COVID and they were a way to explore the subconscious and to travel in the mind rather than around the world or in the U.S. This is a very personal journey—and a very Los Angeles journey—to me because Los Angeles is a place that allows for some sort of isolation. I used to live in New York and in New York are always pulled left and right by whatever is happening around us. In Los Angeles it’s different, you can have some sort of a personal practice, almost like a spiritual practice. To me, that practice is the Psychodessins—the mind drawings. 

These drawings are the basis for this show, the basic layer onto which everything else is happening. The reason why I like Praz-Delavallade as a place to do a show is, first of all, because Eli and I have had a relationship for a very long time, and we’ve been talking about doing a show for a long time. Also, for me, as Praz-Delavallade is both a French and an American gallery, and I’ve been away from France for half my life, and been living in the US for half my life, I still want to have that access to France. In a way, Praz-Delavallade is a channel to still have a connection with where I’m from. 

“I started making these drawings during COVID and they were a way to explore the subconscious and to travel in the mind rather than around the world,” — Sébastien Léon

WW: What inspired the collaging of Psychodessins mixed media works with multi-dimensional creations including paintings, sculpture, a door of perception, an automaton, and a site-specific mural?

SL: Of course, you have the Psychodessins book with all the drawings, but even though they are a body of work themselves, I wanted to have different doors of entry to the show. I’ve always worked across media, and I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to bring all these different media to, at first, accompany Psychodessins, but as I was doing them, I understood that they were as important as doing the Psychodessins.

I’ve always done some sculptures, for instance, and here I wanted to do a sculpture that had to do with diving into the subconscious, so I did that interactive, electromagnetic sound sculpture. It’s kind of akin to early hypnosis or what’s called magnetism. It plays as you run your hands along the body of the mannequin. I also wanted to do this video of the self-portrait part of the drawings, which sort of dissolves into that glass sculpture that embodies the ultimate dissolution of that self-portrait. 

I think that working across media is a way to tell the story. Psychodessins is just one aspect of the story in which I scratch the intention to access the subconscious. The music itself is a state I offer to whoever is playing it, or whoever is listening to it, to come with me into that state of the subconscious—like a hypnosis. Music is hypnosis. 

I want to tell the whole story, and its different gates to entry. The door itself, it’s funny,  because that was the door of my studio. I live in Hollywood, my studio is in Hollywood, and Aldous Huxley used to live very close to me. His famous book is The Doors of Perception, and the name of that piece is La Puerta de la Percepción, which is the same but in Spanish. I feel like that door is the gate of entry to the show. You have to cross that mirror to go to the other side, and that’s where the show lies. 

Installation view of Sébastein Léon's “A Crack in My Cosmic Egg,” 2024 Installation view of Sébastein Léon’s “A Crack in My Cosmic Egg,” 2024, courtesy of the artist and Praz-Delavallade, Los Angeles.

Expressing Cosmology and Mythology through Art 

WW: The title of the exhibition alluded to the elusive motif of the hatching of the cosmic egg, giving way to the creation of the universe as we know it. How might you be re-purposing this dreamlike concept as a point of entry for your creative rebirth? 

SL: That’s a very good question. I love symbols, as you can see in all the drawings. I also love that the egg expresses both the unknown—because you don’t know what’s inside the egg—and the ultimate and infinite potential. The crack in the egg is the crack through which the light comes in that expresses creativity. 

I also feel that the egg, in a way, is the glass sculpture—that is an egg in itself. It’s a representation of myself, but I feel like it has a lot of accidents in it, a lot of cracks in it. That’s how it grows, through the cracks, and that’s why I called it “A Crack in My Cosmic Egg,” I think. A lot of things, I don’t know why I do them. I understand only after. So I might understand in a year from now. But I do like the cosmology of it, that it expresses our whole universe and the myth that it carries. 

Sébastien Léon, Sébastien Léon, “Survivor Benefit,” watercolor and ink on watercolor paper, 18 x 12 in, 45.7 x 30.5 cm; courtesy of the artist and Praz-Delavallade, Los Angeles.

The Enduring Search for New Thought in Los Angeles

WW: Your bewitching works of watercolor and ink on paper propose thought-provoking titles married with surreal and prismatic imagery. How do the works “I’ve Lost Your Virtual Bilocation” and “View all 532 Comments” speak to our technology-centric times while offering visuals that urge close attention to the magic of our organic, inner worlds? 

SL: I think there are two movements in Los Angeles that live together, strangely enough. There is the movement of information, technology, the internet, and digital in general. Los Angeles is not San Francisco, but still, it is California, we’re all in this together. All these IT companies that really changed the world are coming to California. 

The other thing is that Los Angeles has always been the city of dreams and of new thought, and by new thought I mean spiritual quest. Los Angeles is also the city of Theosophy, for instance, and all these spiritual movements before it was the city of cinema. Cinema is one way of crystallizing imagination into reality, into a film. Spirituality is the same theme. 

I think that these drawings tend to show the milieu of Los Angeles, it shows both because it’s the natural surroundings. I live in Hollywood so I feel that very strongly, and I think that I live in Hollywood not by chance, it’s something that I’ve always searched for, for that reason. Not so much the technology reason, that didn’t interest me, but more for the new thought reason. But obviously you can’t ignore the other. 

Sébastien Léon, Sébastien Léon, “And I Fail to Remember Why We Came,” 2023, watercolor and ink on watercolor paper, 18 x 12 in, 45.7 x 30.5 cm; courtesy of the artist and Praz-Delavallade, Los Angeles.

Transforming Accidents into Artwork 

WW: Can you describe your process in terms of color for the “Psychodessins” pieces, are these selections more analytical, emotional, or a combination of both? 

SL: I’ve always worked by synchronicity or accidents. I create accidents, or I look at the accidents that happen around me, and transform that into work. I was mentioning earlier that I started working on glass because Whitewall commissioned me to do some glass sculptures, but I didn’t have experience in doing glass. It’s all these accidents that open doors to me. 

For my paintings, it’s sort of the same thing in which I create these accidents on paper or canvas, and when I have the accidents in front of me, I fill them with whatever it is that I see. With the Psychodessins, I create stains of color, they’re totally random, and I let them dry, place them around the house, or take them with me. It’s whenever I expect it the least that I see things, and I just fill whatever I see onto the drawings. 

With the other pieces in the show, it might be a little bit different, where there’s a little more thought into it. With these there is no thought, it’s just automatic, whatever is on my mind. It’s very immediate and instinctive. With the rest of the work, it is more thought out but the intention is always to hypnotize, to take people with me, sort of like a spider. 

Sébastien Léon, Sébastien Léon, “Veilleur de Nuit (Night Watcher),” 2023, glass, burnt carved wood, 27 x 10 x 10 in, 68.6 x 25.4 x 25.4 cm; courtesy of the artist and Praz-Delavallade, Los Angeles.

Kaleidoscopic Self-Portraits Unfold

WW: The glass and burnt carved wood sculpture Night Watcher evokes both an ending, with the charring of natural material, as well as a beginning, with the rapturous folds of a lively flame. How does the work reflect the rise and fall of the shadowy figure making a pilgrimage through your artworks?

SL: You see in all these drawings that there is a self-portrait part of the drawing which is that shadowed character that goes from one drawing to another and keeps morphing from one task to another. Sometimes it walks around, sometimes it’s on a swing. It’s always there. It’s the sound sculpture as well. And it becomes dissolved in that video and becomes…I don’t even know what it is because I’m not a psychologist, they would know what to call it. I think it’s my primal energy, that’s what it feels like. 

I think we both have positive and negative energy. That’s the negative energy that I’m trying to get rid of, and that’s how I was able to express it. But negative energy is not necessarily bad. We just have to live with it. This is trying to see it so I can visualize it and make friends with it. 

Sébastien Léon, Sébastien Léon, “Dreamtime Express,” 2023, Acrylic on canvas 60 x 48 in, 152.4 x 121.9 cm; courtesy of the artist and Praz-Delavallade, Los Angeles.

WW: Your painting Dreamtime Express has a jazzy effervescence, placing the human silhouette within a symphony of traffic lights and colorful reflections. As you are also a musician, does music perhaps play a role in your paintings?

SL: You’re right, there’s definitely rhythm in that. It’s very jazzy. I never thought about it like that before but for sure—effervescent, yes. 

Music, of course. When you compose you see all the graphs, you can look at the sheets, the curvature of the frequencies, there are many ways to look at music. This painting is almost like a map of music, between all the dots that would be like notes and all the lines that could be like diagrams. 

I see that painting as the moment when you sort of lose your lucidity and become more asleep in a way. It’s like what Dalí used to call hypnagogia. I think that’s what I was trying to express consciously in that painting. My language is definitely musical. When I started doing these paintings initially, when they were more abstract, I used to call them echoes. 

Sébastien Léon, Sébastien Léon, “Franz Anton,” 2024, fiberglass, theremin, guitar amplifier, cables, 139.7 x 97.8 x 101.6 cm, 55 x 38 1/2 x 40 in; courtesy of the artist and Praz-Delavallade, Los Angeles.

Creating Experiential Work and Performances which Live Outside of the Gallery’s Walls 

WW: Can you tell us about using a theremin in your automaton Frank Anton, what about the unique sound of the electronic musical instrument compelled you to interweave it into this creation?

SL: I’ve always liked strange instruments. I play the crystal baschet, a glass instrument with metallic resonators from the 1950s. It looks like a keyboard. I’ve created strange, percussive instruments. I’ve never played the theremin. But I had one for a while and I always felt like it was a very gestural instrument. I don’t know how these three elements came to me, the human sculpture, the amp, and the theremin. It just turns out that I had the theremin, and I thought what would be an interesting way to make it fit the show. 

Naturally, the way it fits the show is by having a human figure like the rest of the show. I got this human figure and I started playing with it. When I placed the theremin in the human sculpture and played it, I was like eureka, that feels incredible. It almost felt already made, like I did not make it, it just happened. I saw it in the studio, and I could not believe how perfect it was. 

Then I installed it in the show. I started performing the night of the opening for 5 minutes, every hour for 5 minutes. Then we did another event. I played it for 5 minutes and people kept coming, so I ended up playing it for two hours. For two hours straight I was doing it and I loved it. I didn’t think I could play it for two hours. It felt like some sort of meditative performance. 

Then I thought I should have other people come and play it together. I started thinking of that concept with the performance that sort of takes the show into an experiential happening, where the drawings are still there but they are projected, and where the sculpture doesn’t need to be in the gallery it could be anywhere. The performance—and the show—continues to live outside the walls of the gallery. 

Sébastien Léon, Sébastien Léon, “Puerta de la Percepción,” 2024, painted wood door and mirrors, 182.9 x 81.3 x 76.2 cm, 72 x 32 x 30 in; courtesy of the artist and Praz-Delavallade, Los Angeles.

Opening Minds with Mediums and Symbols of Transformation 

WW: The Door of Perception juxtaposes a myriad of imagery, from human faces to text, to water—and a sea of calming hues—how do you hope visitors engaged with the immersive work? 

SL: It’s true that water always holds the meaning of transformation. That’s a common element in a lot of drawings. First of all, I work with watercolors, so it’s in my medium. It’s an element of flux, and I just wanted that door to be the door of entry to the show. 

Aldous Huxley’s work is a lot about psychedelics. I’m not as experienced as he was. People would think I do these drawings on psychedelics, but I don’t. They are my psychedelics, the drawings are my way of accessing that. But the intention is the same as Huxley, I just want to get to the other side. I hope both the mural and the door have the effect of opening the mind. 

With the door, you see these reflections, and you just want to get through. The mural is like a Rorschach test where you get in, it’s the first thing you see, and you just look at it. It doesn’t necessarily require finding an answer, but it opens up your mind to be more receptive. 

WW: Within the gallery, your monochromatic black wall mural brings together a flurry of deep-sea divers. How is this artwork in complex conversation with your enduring explorations of surrealism, psychoanalysis, and the nuances of your personal journey through space and time? 

SL: It’s a mural of divers. To me, diving is the same as the spaceman in the cosmonaut in the video, it’s this idea of not being subjected to gravity. The diver is a powerful representation because the diver is not only not subjected to gravity, but it is also in a transformative medium, which is water. I wanted to juxtapose many divers, so that the diver disappears, and it just becomes a stain or a series of stains. Through various elements of the bodies, you have eyes looking at you. The divers are looking at you, you’re looking at them, you’re starting to engage with the show. You start to have a dialogue with yourself really.  

These drawings are all in my imagination, in my dreams, but I believe that my dreams are collective, unconscious dreams—everyone’s dreams. We’re all linked. It’s kind of like when you go to a forest, you think that all the trees are individual, but their roots all intermingle. 

“These drawings are all in my imagination, in my dreams, but I believe that my dreams are collective, unconscious dreams—everyone’s dreams,” — Sébastien Léon

WW: Are there any upcoming endeavors you would like to share with us?

SL: I just released the book and I’m working on this concept of performances. I can’t stop doing these drawings because they seem very natural to me and my practice. I’m also doing my glass all the time. The glass in the show is an artistic sculpture. Sometimes I do glass that is more functional that I show at Ralph Pucci design gallery. 

Sébastien Léon's Sébastien Léon’s “Sound Fountain,” courtesy of the artist.

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