From old-school raves to queer futurism, multidisciplinary artist Leon Davis talks us through his sonic inspirations
“My practice is grounded in storytelling and creating identities,” says Leeds-based graphic artist and radio DJ Leon Davis on his colourful and evocative visual design.
- Joey Levenson
- 26 May 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Leeds-based multidisciplinary graphic artist Leon Davis (AKA Luscious) is making waves in the world of visual art, music, and motion design. It’s easy to think someone as multi-talented as Leon would be a jack of all trades and master of none, but the truth of Leon is undeniable: he’s a master of all. Originally from Shropshire, Leon moved to Leeds to study graphic design, and has found the city’s diverse nightlife and creative communities to be a huge catalyst in his journey into art. “I spent most of my childhood dreaming of leaving [Shropshire],” he tells It's Nice That, “which was definitely a huge motivator in my work and passion for escaping into media”. Whilst Shropshire wasn’t for Leon, he does recall his past fondly in how it’s shaped his signature colourful and eye-popping visuals today. “I was first attracted to the colourful designs of album artwork and merchandise,” he explains. “Clubland album covers, Kanye West’s Graduation artwork, and the X-Men comic books I used to read monthly.”
Leon mostly attributes this nostalgia and euphoria of the visual art and music that he grew up with to his family – namely “my mum’s R&B and disco house, my dad’s Clubland CDs and rave anthems,” he recalls. “I was always on my dance mat.” It makes sense, as one look at Leon’s work and you’re transported back to the rave culture days of the early 2000s, enmeshed in a myriad of colours and playful styles that border somewhere between queer and Afrofuturism. For Leon, he claims he’s always been drawn to “telling a story on who I am by communicating my interests and style through visual language.” The same goes for his work as a DJ, which has facilitated his visual art. That passion for music has only “developed and fuelled the lens through which I view art and design, to really pay attention to how music interacts with it too,” he says.
Now, he hosts a radio show on Sable Radio called Xtrava:Ganza, where he designs and creates all the artwork and motion design that goes alongside it. The show essentially “explores club sounds from a fictional virtual reality nightclub 1,000 years in the future,” Leon describes. This move into world-building and storytelling prompted Leon to create artwork which “visualises what my own persona would be within this world.” But, escapism isn’t all that Leon is about. “I aim to create work that facilitates other people’s self-expression too by being inclusive and communicating empowering messages,” he says, passionate about representing the marginalised communities of society in these futuristic worlds. “I love crafting narratives around speculative futures... imagining how marginalised cultures would evolve with technology and time.”
This dreamy blend of looking to the past to evoke a future is what gives Leon’s work such a distinct stamp. He often pulls from “the ballroom scene and the origins of electronic music from within African diaspora,” he says. “I recognise an importance in amplifying the stories of our ancestors who founded the culture and social climate that we benefit from today,” Leon adds, referencing the whitewashing of today’s visual and musical culture which has been exploited from BIPOC for centuries. Creating “projects that are collaborative with marginalised communities and that have an ethos of joyousness to them” are important for Leon, as he’s always been “a huge fan of vibrant colours,” and often chooses “to take a more striking and playful approach to design rather than subtle or muted”.
As Leon has moved more into the club scene, and started researching the history of queer raves, he tells us he’s “been inspired to play more with parody in [his] work,” such as the visuals queer spaces and raves traditionally played on. But it’s the motion and history embedded in queer club music that Leon loves the most: “It can move your body, change your state of mind, and I feel adding graphic design can really complement these experiences and present the story in an alternate format.” The notion of breaking boundaries and championing self-expression are what keep Leon’s work grounded in the facets of his own identity and others like him, as he feels most “comfortable breaking conceived notions of design,” he says.
But, Leon knows there’s a long way to go. His recent personal investigation into the design industry found that 88 per cent of the design workforce is white, and there have been little to no Black people in senior roles amongst academic design institutions in the last five years. “As a queer person of colour from a low-income household, I felt like there wasn’t a place for somebody like myself,” he says on his findings. He cites unpaid internships, a lack of diversity training, and little-to-no role models for marginalised designers as reasons why “it’s so much harder for minorities to enter the industry.” Leon is adamant in continuing in spite of those, and hopes through his work to “make any positive change that [he] can, even on the smallest scale”. Going forward, Leon is confident things can change – and we’re sure he’s a part of that. He’s looking to venture into 3D and VR, and focus more on “the interplay between how sound and image can be used to communicate strong, emotive messages that can bring people together on a dance floor.”
Leon Davis: Mutualism NTS Guest Mix (Copyright © Leon Davis, 2020)