If ever we needed to argue the flawed and often deeply erroneous nature of our own species, apart from any religious or metaphysical pretext, a telling avenue of discussion is our own relationships with the flesh in which we go along our own life courses. There are those whose bodies are temples to their own god, and who take perhaps too much pride in their outward appearance, maybe to distract from what they might lack in the space behind their cosmetically appealing facade.
But more often than not, our bodies are as much the homes of deep-seated fears as they are for our waking consciousness. The things that make us who we are are conversely the lurking paths to our own undoing. With the advent of a parasite or cancerous disease, what was the vehicle through which we might absorb abundant experiences amid the world’s many wonders suddenly becomes a prison, whose walls are closing in as they begin to catch fire.
The flesh has also been at the heart of some of the eternal struggles our civilization has been ailing from since its earliest days. Racism, sexism, and the crusade of peoples existing in less traditional shades of the sexual spectrum. The makeup of our biology has largely determined how society treats you, even today, and like a medieval caste system of old, you are born into this life as you are, so you just have to deal with it.
The artist known as Leopard Moth, has been speaking a silent dialogue of the flesh through their startlingly original and provocative imagery. By exploring LM’s work, the juxtaposition of beauty and deep discomfort force us to explore the uniquely dysfunctional relationship that we all have with our own physical and mental state.
“I am from Riga, Latvia.” states LM, “ I became serious about art around the age of thirteen inspired by computer game concept art and fantasy/sci-fi illustration, much to the chagrin of my family. I was by no means considered a talented kid, but I had this irrational inner push to get my visions and feelings out into the world. I always had something going on in my imagination, like an endless movie. If not visual art, then it would probably be writing or music.
“As for formal education, I graduated Latvian Art Academy with bachelors in textile art and masters in printmaking. Time in the academy certainly helped me figure out my niche and conceptualize my work, but I’ve always had an easier time creating in solitude(not least due to social anxiety), so self-education has always been a primary element in my growth for better or for worse.”
That element of solitude, in the process of creation as much as the artistic style itself is overtly telling in any of LM’s work. Twisted and bent forms that at times seem neither organic or synthetic, writhe and hang in a womb-like void. Here and there, what might be classified as a face looks out at us, though its assorted features are skewed, minimal, even nonsensical. Some retain a disconcerting serenity, while others carry a latent malice to them. These are visions glimpsed from quiet contemplation and even aspirations for the flesh.
“Although I started with art rather traditionally, through building foundational skills, eventually I’ve been subjected to such a variety of styles and approaches, that, to be honest, I don’t even know what is “proper” anymore. The more I explored and experimented, the more acutely I grew aware of my quirks, leanings, limitations, of what effortlessly drives me and what causes me to procrastinate. I also wanted to develop a process tailored to my unstable mood landscape, to anxiety, to bouts of frustration and anger, to depressive episodes, to those moments when it’s hard to concentrate or keep a stable hand, so that my drawings could be flexible in terms of line control, but still have an overall unified look, as if they were all from the same universe. So it only made sense to streamline my approach and cultivate my own “handwriting”, so to speak. I am still in this process of understanding myself and streamlining my workflow, only nowadays the learning curve is much less pronounced.”
LM’s ‘handwriting’ is evident in everything from their use of color, to the intricate multilayered use of pencil pressure to convey a subdermal vein complex of sorts. These intricacies and quirks tie even disparate entities across LM’s portfolio together.
“There is a strong element of automatism and intuition in my process. But if earlier I experimented with pure “stream of consciousness” drawing, these days I tend to choose a specific motif from my mental library, although the actual shape of it, the way the drawing would end up looking only reveals itself in the process. I like to feel that I am not so much “drawing” my subjects as I am “growing” them, as if setting a sequence in motion and watching it come to life. In childhood I wanted to be a biologist and I still carry this fascination with the principles behind the flow of nature structures and patterns, behind things like erosion, waves, formations of clouds and nebulae etc..
“And I think it’s also fair to say that I am not drawing the appearance of subjects, but the way they feel. In order to draw something I need to understand the character of the subject, the way the shape perceives itself from the inside, just like an actor needs to understand the character they play in order to act. So all these lines and visual noise are like currents of energy and points of tension within those figures.Or maybe they are like scratches on an old damaged film. I like my illustrations to be like fleeting glimpses of moods extracted from memory, fragile and devoid of mundane logic, like faint imprints of mental images as opposed to logically deliberated compositions, more evocative than descriptive.”
To look at LM’s art as subjects ‘grown’ from out of empathy and introspection gives them a heightened significance and unsettling life. Through this lens of thinking, LM is tapping into a pure vein of creation without pretense, unconcerned with fitting in or conforming to an audience’s expectation.
Leopard Moth’s world exists under the skin, where secrets are laid bare and vitals are open and vulnerable. The backdrop of their art is largely defined by a wounded aura of naked pinks, bruised purples, and disease-ridden blues, creating a sickly beautiful aura that plays with the subconscious.
“My relationship with color is still evolving, but there is a common thread of blues and flesh colours throughout, sometimes offset by dark accents like metal, latex or glassy eye orbs. Sometimes they are morbid and faded, sometimes more neon or pastel, but altogether it’s like a hospital colour palette. My line drawings also have an element of colour, the sketchbook paper I use is recycled, so there are tiny specks of blue or red against the off-white, which sets me in this clinical melancholic mindspace it’s like a walk in an old hospital park. There are a lot of other associations, but this would be the central unifying one. I think the experience of having surgery in my early childhood certainly left an imprint on my inner world and also in my view of the human body as often something uncomfortably vulnerable.”
This surgical imprint can often be recognized, especially of late, as LM has been crafting and subsequently dissecting within the 3D modeling realm, as seen often on their Instagram. A constant juxtaposition of the outside and insides is at play here, sometimes to a deeply unsettling degree.
The term ‘post-human’ is one that LM uses constantly to define the many characters and creatures that they nurture into existence, which all resemble varying degrees of humanity, despite their alien nature. As a simple tag on an instagram post, this term carries a multitude of inferences and angles of perception. Post-human is both a nihilistic yearning for an end to the species, as well as a more hopeful wish for the future.
“Post-human is just a clean slate, it can be anything. What makes it good or bad is the human starting point or personal perception. I like taking apart and getting to the core of what makes something what it is, if there is anything defining at all. I am interested in decay and mutation, the change of what we know as human, both outside and inside. The same way I am fascinated by the idea of stereotypical grey aliens being humans from distant future. It’s unsettling and enigmatic and appeals to my fascination with the uncanny valley effect.
“It is more of an observer perspective. Playing around with ideas and moods. I like asking questions that open new possibilities. For example, what form would a human take in fully immersive virtual reality, when there are no limitations of physical space? Why would they stick to a human form? They may assume a form of a slug, a fish or, pardon me, an attack helicopter. I’m sure some people would unironically choose the latter. I like dwelling on what it would be like to have some “fundamental” aspects of human nature removed, be it appearance, thought patterns or the ability to feel. When I was going through a particularly depressive period for example, I explored what it would be like to live without directly feeling the world, as if you were forever confined in a hazmat suit or if you were a robot. Or what it would be like to have your empathy removed.
“The thing is though, that “post-human” is only one way of seeing my characters. Just like you can see cenobites from Hellraiser as posthumans, I suppose. In truth I don’t fully know what they are exactly, other than personas from my inner world, vessels for my moods. Like proprioceptive self-images, in their shapes everything internal is laid bare, the wounds, the mind fog, the headaches, the passion, the anger, the masochistic desires. Not all of them are what I really want to be myself, for example one of them is like an ill-tempered arrogant authority figure (especially present in my works from 2017-2018), some are like shapeless parasites, with only rudimentary resemblance to a human, another is an empathic Imago(which is also the one I am actively uncovering and nurturing these days, I think this persona is the real “me” I want to be), but they are all existing inside of me with equal potential to surface in different conditions.
Inner states are always a starting point to me. I am fascinated both by tenderness and darkness in human nature, the unity and the loneliness, the pleasure and violence, I can see those moving to new heights or depths with the development of humanity.”
Considering LM’s words, part of the intense effect their art instills in the beholder becomes intuitive, to some degree, as LM is not merely drawing from an aesthetic frame of mind, but an intensely personal and psychological one that is able to unconsciously converse with our own perceptions. Visual art appears to be LM’s livelihood as much as it is a critical tool for introspection and self-realization. How many unfortunates have gone through life without such a conduit for reflection and consequently self destructed in frustration and confusion?
There are clues to be gleaned from the sensuous ballet of the masculine and feminine aspects in each of LM’s characters that inevitably lead one to the destination of queer art. While a large portion of our present times are defined by the self declaration of the LGBT community, there remains a clash of ideologies as the old, traditionally steeped, rails against the new and forward looking. However, as LM explains, their artistic output serves as a valuable, yet humble mode of expression for the queer sensibility to flourish and celebrate its own developing nature.
“I use the “queer artist” tag on IG mostly for the sake of visibility. I am transgender and nonbinary, which makes me queer. I am an artist. And that’s all it means. Of course these two things are intertwined, like all aspects of a person usually are, but I wouldn’t apply the word “identity” here.
I just happen to relate more to characters, whose gender is hard to define. I personally definitely don’t identify with being a man, but despite belonging on the feminine side of the spectrum I don’t quite feel deserving of fully identifying with being a woman either. This is likely my own internalised shame and prejudice, I haven’t yet worked through it, so at the end of the day I feel a lot more at ease in this uncharted space outside of binary extremes.
I can only speak for myself of course, just like anyone should only speak for themselves. I don’t want to impose my vision on others, this would be incredibly boring if everyone shared the same perspective. But what I can do instead is introduce images into collective consciousness to expand public perception of what is aesthetically appealing, and this way I may hopefully carve out a space for myself to be accepted, if it makes sense. I believe there will be men and women in the future, even if it wouldn’t be necessary for procreation, even if human form would no longer be necessary, but it will also be completely normal to be outside and inbetween. It just wouldn’t be a huge deal. I hope.
I also make my characters androgynous or alien-looking because I feel dysphoric about some aspects of my physical body that could be called “non-passing”(even though I personally consider pressuring people into “passing” toxic, to me this is a matter of personal comfort and not social pressure), so I use art to give these aspects an aesthetically pleasing form, for example aliens in sci-fi can have prominent foreheads and giant skeletons, but still feel beautiful in an otherworldly way. So there is a body-positive aspect to that. The same with my “Imago” persona/character, I treat it like an old cemetery angel statue or a damaged flickering hologram. While clearly it’s more feminine(I suppose), I always give it some masculinized or slightly grotesque features, partly obscure it in what could be visual noise or decay while still trying to retain a sense of beauty and dignity. Just like I myself am someone with physical and psychological trauma of testosterone puberty and masculine upbringing, which can obscure, but not erase the real me.”
Once again, in hearing LM explain the significance behind what we might assume to be mere visual stylings, every minute aspect of the medium channels the secret language of allegory to emulate hidden truths just beneath the surface. In this way, the characters are truly speaking to us.
“The hurdles of medical and legal transition also play a role in this. For example HRT is still something I can’t afford to commit to just yet, so I seek mental peace in exploring alternative ways of being and identifying outside of labels and buzzwords. Sometimes it’s easier to ignore gender altogether and instead relate to shapes, sounds, colours or states of matter. It’s internally freeing in a way, because by ignoring the concept of gender you bypass potential taboos and neuroses associated with transgressing those socially imposed barriers and be purely yourself.
And to think of it, medical transition hasn’t always been around, but trans people have always existed in some form, so surely they must have been other ways of being recognised and achieving harmony without being pressured into altering the physical body. I mean, of course it’s great that we live in a time when this is technically possible, this is a necessity for many people including me, and I insist this should be accessible and affordable to everyone who needs it, but because unfortunately it is not, it is crucial to trust and respect the way people feel inside regardless of what steps they have taken to match their outer with their inner. And the fact that intersex people exist, often in very unobvious ways, it begs a lot of questions about not only the ambiguity of internal identities, but also of the sexual dimorphism. It fills me with hope to think that humanity is on the brink of acknowledging how truly diverse it is. But knowing history I am also afraid this might easily turn backwards under the tide of demagogy and stubborn ignorance.”
The horror of our own bodies has been the driving impetus behind countless artists throughout human history, with some damning the flesh, and others absolving or celebrating it. But LM appears to occupy a space in between, instead meditating on the fears, hopes and (im)possibilities of themself and the species as a whole, both within and without.
Check out more of Leopard Moth’s horrifying selections of surreal work below: