Visiting Magnolia Falls with Stellar Leuna October 05 2021
Stellar Leuna is an exhibiting artist, freelance illustrator and musician who was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong and raised in Sydney, Australia. She has always been fascinated by what it means to 'belong', so unsurprisingly, coming-of-age themes are frequently visited subject matter in her work. Teenage girls, witches and demons all seem to live happily and harmoniously in a surreal black-and-white dystopia where the sun never rises. It is through a subtle dark humour that Stellar is able to illustrate her feelings on heavy subject matter such as alienation, rejection, romance, death and the afterlife. Starting out in self-publishing her own art zines and designing merch for bands and local streetwear labels, her bold, comic-style renditions of 'satanic panic' imagery inspired by the covers of her favourite punk and heavy metal records makes her work appealing not just to those in the underground art world - a fact that has become evident since her collaboration with major fashion labels PRADA and Tiffany & Co in 2018.
Interview by Gab Lewis. Photos supplied by Stellar Leuna.
Welcome back to Outré Gallery once again! What do we have to look forward to with your upcoming solo show?
My upcoming show MAGNOLIA FALLS will consist of 6 large-scale ink illustrations that work together like an “anthology series”, where supernatural occurrences take place in a town called Magnolia Falls. I’ve always wanted to do a whole show where each of the individual artworks were linked together through a common narrative but could also stand on their own.
What’s different about this show from past shows is the focus being on the surroundings and the town being a threat to its residents, rather than the characters overcoming adversity. Being in lockdown during the making of this show, I was thinking a lot about uncertainty and lack of knowing for sure what will happen in the future. I think many would agree that the pandemic has changed their worldview and it’s affected us in unpredictable ways, so I think that subconsciously came through in each of the pieces in this show.
With themes of belonging, teen angst and gender identity prominent in your practice – what do these concepts mean to you?
It has a lot to do with my fascination for the past, and delving into my own experiences. Even with the music I listen to, musicians honour influential music from the past through their own music. I think when people make art it is to reflect on and digest their past experiences, whether they’re good or bad. A lot of the things I am inspired by often have a nostalgic or dreamlike quality to them.
You discussed the significance of narrative within your work and particularly Magnolia Falls. Tell us about the role this plays in your practice and what it means for your viewers.
Narrative has always been a very important aspect of drawing for me and being a huge daydreamer in my day-to-day life, I just find it’s an uncontrollable habit to come up with scenarios that can express a certain feeling or thought. It can be tricky sometimes trying to find a comfortable balance between two worlds I love - fine art and comics. I try my best to make an aesthetically pleasing work of art but the subject matter has to feel like they have ‘lived a life’ or feel relatable to viewers, so I guess that’s where the tool of narrative comes into play.
The influences you listed are prevalent in your work not only visually but of course in its emotive nature! Tension and an underlying sense of foreboding lingers consistently throughout, which comes as a surprising intersection with notions of childhood and the idea of innocence that is often paired with that. Can you shed some light on your process in achieving this balance?
I was honestly a pretty anxious kid growing up and often processed a lot of my feelings and thoughts through drawing, so the idea of combining tense and dark situations with themes of growing up just felt like a natural thing if that makes sense. Fear is often used as a device to teach moral lessons in anything from Hansel and Gretel to Friday the 13th, too. Although I am not using horror to teach any kind of moral lesson (I just think it’s cool), I love when people can see there is that coming-of-age/horror genre element to my work.
With a lot of creatives going inwards over the last year or so, how has the pandemic impacted your practice? Did you come across any new discoveries or exciting influences?
Aside from predictable things such as supplies being delayed, everyday seemed to blend in with the last. Going from living in one of the most metropolitan cities in the world where you can go anywhere you want and there is easy access to most of your basic needs and desires, to just walking around the neighbourhood, made the world feel very small. I think that awful “claustrophobic” feeling like you’re stuck in a time loop or in a bubble is represented in this show through the idea of a small sleepy town where danger is very much at large – only it's supernatural rather than a super contagious and deadly virus. I’ve never done a show during a lockdown before as I am sure many artists haven’t. This is such a unique experience to have lived through in our lifetime, so in many ways the fact that I got to use all that excess energy I had from being locked down to turn into art was interesting. It has definitely ignited a new sense of motivation for me.
You've discussed the significance of emotion in your process. Do you have any sort of rituals to enable a conducive mindset for creating?
I think the way I work through it is from just doing something relaxing, and taking notes and brainstorming ideas I’ve kept in my mind, but never felt ready to execute. I always have a lot of ideas I never get around to making a reality, so I often go through my mental checklist and make lots and lots of notes. I also love to sit with my partner and talk about my ideas and thoughts and get feedback too. It helps a lot to vocalise those ideas along with any emotions that come with them.
It seems like your major influences span a number of mediums and genres from film, literature and music. What are some old faithfuls that you can always rely on to ignite your creative flame?
Anything that I happen to develop an obsession with at any given time works its way into my work. From Stephen King, Dario Argento and Sophia Coppola to background and set designs in Twilight Zone episodes, to EC comics and Goosebumps book covers. Once again, influences from childhood and teenhood come into play a lot in my work as an anchor of sorts.
We have seen your work take many forms, between clothing, animations and comics – is there a medium that you have yet to conquer and would like to try?
I think I’m still very invested in developing those areas at the moment rather than spreading myself too thin across different mediums right now. I am really enjoying making comics and telling stories so I will probably spend most of my time doing that for the remainder of the year.
You've previously discussed your own conflict when facing creative stereotypes as a young artist. As a prolific image maker yourself, do you have any advice for emerging illustrators following in your footsteps?
Just do what makes you comfortable, confident and inspired. There is no standard really, so just make your process as weird or as straight forward as you want.
Thank you for your time, Stellar!