project corona... leo robinson
Leo Robinson talks musical awakenings, one-ness and
the repression of mythology
15th June, 2020
“Without myths and rituals, it becomes very hard to connect with our society and inner selves”
Leo Robinson is an artist and musician from Newcastle-under-Lyme based in Glasgow, Scotland. As an artist, Leo is represented by London’s Tiwani Contemporary, with works featured in Frieze and Elephant. His first UK solo show titled ‘Theories For Cosmic Joy’ debuted at Tiwani last summer, portraying an “eternal battle between intuition and rationality”, through fresco-typed murals.
Also a multi-instrumentalist and musician, Leo fronts musical project Cult Party founded in 2011. Cult Party have released several albums and EP’s under the eponymous title, with the latest album ‘And Then There Was This Sound’ released in 2018. Singles have featured on both Clash and NOWNESS. Leo is currently working on a follow up album, having completed the first set of early demos.
Taken from u ok hun’s ‘Project Corona Special - Summer 2020’ (Print Edition) in which Robinson also provided the cover art.
‘Theories for Cosmic Joy’ debuted at London’s Tiwani Contemporary, and was your first solo exhibition in the UK. How would you describe the show, were there any specific narratives that you wanted to portray?
I was very happy with that show! I think I managed to create something complete, and the size of the space definitely pushed me to take my visual and conceptual ideas further than I might have done otherwise. There was a kind of non-linear narrative to the whole show. It portrayed an eternal battle between intuition and rationality, or between the spiritual and the scientific, an acknowledgement of one-ness of body and mind or of humanity as a whole versus a belief in the individual, or a kind of pure thought removed from physicality.
You created Cult Party the same day that you saw ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’, a documentary about Daniel Johnston’s music, art and manic depression, as early as 2011. Both his art and music are considerably Lo-Fi, and is an aspect that you embraced in both your early art and music. What was it about Daniel Johnston that inspired you, and how do you think Cult Party has evolved as a project?
Yeah, watching that was an awakening of sorts. It wasn't all the crazy things that happened to him or his mental illness so much, but his way of creation, free from restrictions, in terms of songwriting, recording and releasing music. It opened up songwriting as a medium of freedom for me. That was a different time though, nearly ten years ago. I wasn't even 18 yet. I've since gone full circle and have been building the process of songwriting back up from its deconstructed state. My recent work has involved some fairly complex song structures, such as the first song of And Then There Was This Sound, which runs at 20 minutes. The album I have just finished writing, which is still at demo stage, has involved a lot of scoring for chamber instruments, specifically an ensemble of two flutes, cello and french horn, with some appearances from the violin, the harp and hopefully a harpsichord.
Also I'm taking more consideration into the structure of albums as whole works. Some very interesting things happened in hip-hop and R&B music in the last 5 years in terms of whole albums. A few examples are Kanye's The Life of Pablo, Standing on The Corner's Red Burns, Solange's When I Get Home. I was definitely moved by these records towards repeating harmonic, melodic and lyrical motifs existing across all the songs, and using album structure as more than just a sequence of separate songs.
‘Cosmograph III: Joy’ and ‘Newton With Horse Christ’ taken from Robinson’s ‘Theories for Cosmic Joy’ (2019)Your art and music are able to coexist, complimenting each other seamlessly, almost as the same project. This could be down to the ever-present influence of religion, folklore and mythology. What is it about these elements that continue to inspire both mediums?
Probably the fact that they are so lacking from everyday life, and the more repressed they become, the more they must burst out violently and unexpectedly. Without myths and rituals, it becomes very hard to connect with our society and inner selves. I've been reading Jung's "Man and His Symbols", which has confirmed and helped me to articulate a lot of these thoughts.
What’re your thoughts on lockdown, do you think we should be using this time wisely?
Sure. For me this kind of domestic situation is fine. I'm happy to stay inside and just exist as closely as possible to the space that I'm in. But I understand it's very hard for some people, especially those who have less ideal living arrangements and who can't get the financial help or emotional support they need. I think this is a good opportunity to think and assess, and create if you feel up to it. Putting pressure on yourself to be creative in these situations is rarely a good idea, even though I'm sure we all do it.
How do you feel you've managed to keep calm and creative during Covid-19?
We have been working on our garden a lot. We have sprouts, beans, mange tout, broccoli, lettuce, chard, tomatoes, spring onions and potatoes growing at the moment. Apart from that I just take walks when I feel the impulse. I try and have a cold shower every morning and do half an hour or so of meditation. We play cards and watch films and read books. I've been making a few paintings and recorded some demos.
words: patrick taylor / images courtesy of leo robinson