His portraits may share similarities to the vandalism-tarnished genre, but for LeFlore, his art form is all about transforming communities.
“I love working with organizations and community leaders to create a series of work that’s out in the public,” explains LeFlore, who works primarily in portraiture. “My portrayals can help uplift an otherwise drab space with art.”
LeFlore’s mission started from humble beginnings, including art classes at Benson High School where he would meet his friend Gerard Pefung. After high school, LeFlore’s aspirations to illustrate cartoons and comic books led him to pursue graphic design while Pefung went in a different direction. A chance meeting years later would lead to LeFlore’s first foray into street art.
“I go to a party, and I see this massive indoor mural and Pefung is standing in front of it,” LeFlore reminisces. “I find out that he created it, and I’m flabbergasted. At that moment I decided to take my craft and elevate it by jumping into public art.”
Leflore would pick up an aerosol can for the first time at Pefung’s studio, eventually developing a signature style remixing existing images with his hybrid stencil method. He became acquainted with community art organizers—including folks involved with Benson First Friday—and he started to pay more attention to public art and murals around town. With his desire to showcase his art, LeFlore participated in shows at The Union of Contemporary Arts’ Wanda B. Ewing Gallery in North Omaha and exhibited in Chicago (in a gallery and on the street). But he longed for an international platform.
After admiring constant social media posts about Hong Kong’s street art scene from a Nebraska friend (Craig Schuster) living in the Chinese territory, LeFlore became determined to showcase his art there. With income earned from personal commissions and teaching at The Union of Contemporary Arts, he was able to move toward his goal with a trip to the former British colony.
“I did research and found that I didn’t need to know Cantonese or Mandarin to live in Hong Kong,” LeFlore says. “It made it easy for me to adapt, and I utilized my time there to build opportunities and meet my friend, Hughie [Doherty], who owns a screen printing shop in Stanley, Hong Kong.”
During the day, Stanley is a busy seaside marketplace with a labyrinth of shops selling clothing, trinkets, and toys. When the neighborhood shops close for the night, a vibrant street art scene emerges. Artworks reveal themselves, painted on the shutters of local establishments.
Schuster, his Nebraska expat friend, introduced LeFlore to a local arts nonprofit called HK Walls. HK Walls “aims to create opportunities for local and international artists to showcase their talent in Hong Kong.” The nonprofit helped LeFlore with resources in Hong Kong, introducing him to Doherty and a host of local street artists. From there, LeFlore set off to create his masterpiece amongst the shutters.
A collaboration with Schuster led to “Kowloon Influence,” an art piece depicting Tsang Tsou Choi, a legendary Hong Kong graffiti artist (known as the King of Kowloon) who spent decades scrawling his family’s ancestral claims to Kowloon—a large portion of Hong Kong’s land area—in calligraphy that he painted on public walls throughout the bustling city.
In order to pay homage to the King of Kowloon, LeFlore made stencils of Tsang Tsou Choi’s calligraphy and combined them with a friend’s referenced photographs creating a surreal portrait on a city street.
LeFlore’s recent move to the Twin Cities has immersed him in Minnesota’s own thriving visual arts community. While his girlfriend, Heather Peebles, pursued her Master of Fine Arts at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, he linked up with a comprehensive group of like-minded creatives.
“I still keep my connections in the Big O,” LeFlore says. “I consider Watie White as a mentor, and my cousin, Joanna LeFlore helped me establish my style. The Union for Contemporary Art has also been amazing.”
LeFlore is in the process of pursuing a collaborative project with Omaha photographer Alicia Davis, but here is where street art clashes with the rebel spirit of graffiti. Their project has run into some unexpected roadblocks.
“The graffiti artist in me says to stop asking for permission, come down, and get some stuff up there,” he says. “North Omaha should have a bigger public art presence. The conversation behind street art is what makes it cool, and I’m sure it could help reinvigorate the community.”
Visit ral86.com for Reggie LeFlore’s personal website.
This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.