Seth LeDonne, whose drawings are featured in Creative Nonfiction #60, “Childhood,” is a multidisciplinary artist who examines our perceived, implied, and amplified notions of everyday experiences. Seth has been drawing since childhood; he also writes and makes photographs, poems, and performances. He currently lives in Pittsburgh.
CNF: In what ways was responding to the essays in CNF #60 a challenge? Did you find that having objects, symbols, and scenes in the text to work with aided your creative process, or limited it?
LeDonne: I’m historically a poor reader, so I made sure to set time aside to read all the stories at once and take notes of images that surfaced. This process ended up being the foundation for how the drawings came about.
CNF: In an interview with WMBS radio, you’re asked to explain art to an alien, and respond as such: “With humans, we have so much joy and tragedy in our existence that we’ve had to create art to convey things that are beyond words.” Is that what compels you to make art—an inability to express your joy, or sorrow, or what have you, in any other way?
LeDonne: I’m actually an over-sharer in my daily life. When I express myself through art those vibes are given a more valid space to process.
CNF: In the same interview, you draw parallels between reading a book and processing a piece of visual art. Can you expand on that a bit? In what ways can visual art be narrative—or, at least, how can it engage you in a way akin to good writing? And what story, if any, do you aim to tell with your artwork?
LeDonne: Really surrendering attention is what I was getting at. I shouldn’t speak for all artists, but I will say that our work is woven through the narrative of our lives. I tend to convey *my experience* most plainly through writing and more cryptically through visual work.
CNF: Can you describe your creative process, from inception to execution? Once you’re done with a piece or series, what are your hopes for it?
LeDonne: Making drawings is the most erratic process. They happen whenever the time is right and they’re either perfect or too embarrassing to show anyone.
Painting is the most therapeutic art form in the world, so it’s nice for me to engage in work that is an ongoing, multi-session project that is about low-pressure problem solving.
With writing, I usually experience something that moves me and either write it out immediately or let it float away forever.
CNF: You’ve mentioned you don’t often tend to depict people or animals in your work, but instead like to feature objects: a pair of shoes, for example, or a scarf, or a cardboard box. Your series On the Line / Off the Record is largely devoid of anything with a pulse, as are many of your drawings, prints, and photographs. And CNF #60 doesn’t contain a single illustration of an animal or human being. Why is that?
LeDonne: I have a friend who is very beautiful and whom I love dearly, but from the way I’ve drawn them you’d think they were a haggard stranger. Aside from my skillset limitations, I like drawing objects because they usually end up really funny or really pretty.
CNF: “The way that I was painting [in art school] was way more illustrative,” you said on WMBS. “Back then, it was almost like taking a photo or a reference that I had and just applying my own filter to it.” Can you explain how you’ve changed, as an artist, over time? If you’re no longer as illustrative, where have you moved to, aesthetically? Conceptually?
LeDonne: Experimenting with different mediums, aesthetics, and themes has been at times scary, confusing, and exhausting. But that was the only way I’ve grown, and that’s probably how it is for most really special things in life. My aesthetic has simplified and my conceptual approach is still naively straightforward or thoughtless. I think *maybe* I don’t play myself by being too gimmicky anymore?
CNF: You often work with text in your visual art. This piece—in which you write, “If I must lose the real you then I will make a gold you”—is a particular favorite of mine. Why do you find yourself drawn to pairing text with illustrations?
LeDonne: The text is usually there to make the viewer feel happy or sad. It’s dangerous though because there’s a 75 percent chance that putting words in a drawing will backfire.
CNF: The illustrations you’ve included in CNF #60 are, fittingly, almost childlike: minimalistic, sparse, imperfect. How do you think you arrived at that style—and why do you choose to work with it?
LeDonne: Probably because I suffer from OCD, and rejecting perfectionism enables me to create.
CNF: You’ve written that you use images and text to “highlight and amplify the meaning surrounding our day-to-day experiences.” Can you explain what you mean by that? A lot of your work features everyday objects, from a coffee table to a matchbook to a set of keys. In what way do you think that recasting these objects in ink, or marker, or whatever it may be, forces us to reexamine them in a new light?
LeDonne: Because every waking minute is a gift, and those little things are the kitschy, nostalgic stocking stuffers of this big present.
CNF: The truth lies at the heart of everything we do here at Creative Nonfiction. Your poem “Value Yourself” asks readers to “let the focus shift towards truth,” to “try to be honest.” Do you try to express something true in your work—or, rather, to try to get at truth, to use art to discover it?
LeDonne: I pretty much think about the planet earth and how it’s doomed because of humanity every day.
On the other hand, I think we are in control of our own lives, and that is a big deal.
Celebrating the joys of life and sharing the hardships can be so life-giving, let alone getting to do so through art. I think it’s important to give yourself that present. <3