Shining in the Dark: Xavier Leopold
Coffee Bean Thoughts, 2022
Black British Painter
ArtMatch Value Score*: Emerging
Xavier Leopold (b.1992) is a self-taught painter who found his voice through painting during the COVID-19 lockdown.
When the lockdown hit, Xavier was forced to face traumas of his past and the present. His best friend had been killed years earlier, the feelings about which he had largely buried. And the movement for racial justice swept the world, forcing a critical look at systematic racism and oppression. Xavier, like many others at the time, felt an acute depression for which he sought therapy. With the urging of his therapist, Xavier took up painting, found a new love, and hasn’t looked back. Xavier’s work deals with mental health, a topic about which he openly speaks. His characters are shown in different states, fighting for equanimity and balance. His signature cubist style and glow in the dark paint are distinctive markers. Xavier’s work has been exhibited throughout the UK, including an exhibition sponsored by Beats By Dre. He recently published his first children’s book called Art for the Heart with Welbeck Publishing.
“Art allows me to visually express what I can’t communicate”
Xavier moved to the UK as a child after his father secured work as a civil engineer. His father was from Sierra Leone and his mother was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique. Growing up, Xavier was surrounded by Afro-Caribbean influences at home, including masks and colorful fabrics. Xavier started college but dropped out at age 18, around the time when his best friend was killed. Despite the disruption and trauma of his late teens, Xavier secured a job as a trader for a bank where he specialized in trades on the Asia desk. While working, Xavier found that doodling and sketching was his go-to method for processing his thoughts and passing time. But he never considered himself an artist.
That changed during the COVID-19 lockdown. Xavier moved from working in a loud, fast-paced, office environment to working from home, mostly by himself with more time on his hands. For the first time, Xavier had space to pause and think and reflect. In this reflection, he felt deep pain over the partially-grieved loss of his best friend. He also witnessed the Black Lives Matter movement, which brought to the global consciousness the systemic oppression of Black people, particularly those living as minorities in Western societies. It was all too much for Xavier to process on his own, and he sought the guidance of a therapist. Xavier’s therapist noticed that he liked to doodle, and encouraged him to try drawing as a form of therapy. Xavier took the advice and started to draw. He quickly become immersed in the activity, and decided to expand to painting on a canvas. One day, two of his friends visited and saw his paintings. “Who did this?” they said. When Xavier told them he had, his friends were shocked that he had this hidden talent. They encouraged him to share his works, initially through Instagram.
As Xavier shared his work, he noticed many positive responses from people who identified with his style and the emotion of his characters. This motivated Xavier to continue to paint, and he completed over 30 pieces during a 6 month period. Xavier and his friends organized a show of his work at OXO tower in London called Lion Mountains. His first show was visited by 1,200 people and all of the works sold. As the COVID-19 lockdown continued and conversations around mental health became more mainstream, Xavier kept creating works and his profile continued to rise, with interviews on the BBC and other news outlets. Xavier also felt a need to give back by organizing workshop for children to teach them to draw, and talk about how it helps to process their feelings. These efforts were spotted by a publisher, who offered Xavier a deal to publish his first book called Art of the Heart: a fill-in journal of wellness through art. The book was released in April 2022.
Coffee Bean Thoughts (in the dark)
Xavier identifies his work as a form of cubism, a style made popular by Picasso and Braque but appropriated from the African masks and sculptures that Xavier grew up around. There is a tension in Xavier’s work between the calmness of his character’s expression, with eyes that betray no emotion, and the vibrant use of color inherent in the visual vocabulary he developed as a child. In general, he wants to convey a sense of calm no matter the circumstance. Another unique trait of his painting is the use of glow in the dark paint. This medium is a particularly personal choice as Xavier has always been fascinated by stars. The hallmark, glow in the dark paint also references one of his mother’s sayings to him during a rough time in his life: “the stars shine the brightest when it’s in the dark.”
Xavier’s process for a new painting typically starts with an idea of a title, a scene from a dream or an image that forms in his mind. The work takes shape as he sketches the idea and makes choices on color intuitively given how he feels in the moment. Xavier’s early works used acrylic paint, with bold brush strokes and rough edges, a style influenced by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Isshaq Ismail. Today, he prefers to use oil paint with softer edges, inspired in part by portraits of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. He admires her for her ability to capture emotion and the undeniable mark of her hand as an artist.
Xavier has had seven exhibitions to dat