Establishing Hip-Hop in Hamilton.
“Just because the old masters had a style of working, that’s art but graffiti is art as well. I don’t separate real art from whatever. Art is an expression of self.”
To call Leon ‘Eklipz’ Robinson a prolific, multidisciplinary artist does not quite do him justice. He is a graffiti master, Hip-Hop extraordinaire, poet, photographer, painter, Sagittarian and documentary filmmaker, having worked with everything from music, murals, watercolour and even Funko dolls.
Born in Toronto and Hamilton raised, Robinson made his mark in the city not only through his street art, but through his shop, the Boom Spot, which opened in the early 1990s. The shop, located at 277 King East, dealt in all things hip-hop, including clothing, skateboard gear, graffiti magazines, mix tapes and custom screen printing. Robinson said of the Boom Spot, “We set up the store to service the youth in the area who were travelling from Buffalo to Toronto to get their gear, and also to make the hip-hop scene a little more visible” (ArtsBeat, 1997). While running his shop, he continued to nurture his creativity by sketching at the front desk between interactions with customers.
Robinson recalled of this time, “I had no formal training. Came out of high school and went into business, opening my clothing store. Because I had my clothing store, I was able to still draw during the day while nobody was there, I would be sketching and creating a piece and that’s what I did to keep it going.”
As interest grew in his art works, he decided to open a gallery within the shop to display his art.
Robinson quickly became recognized by the art community at large, having been included in the CEMENT mentoring program for up and coming artists and the Defining the Site exhibition at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (November 18, 1995 – March 3, 1996). This exhibition, subtitled A collective history project inspired by the 20th anniversary of Hamilton Artists Inc., gave local artists the chance to share their histories and display their talent through a chronology of artist-run activity and community building in Hamilton. Robinson’s work “Aerosol Expression” (1995) was included in the exhibition, which explored the misconceptions surrounding graffiti artists as vandals. His feature in the exhibition catalogue read as follows:
The biggest influence on my art is Hip-Hop as a culture, graffiti being the visual element. My work is mainly large scale murals although I have done some smaller pieces on canvas. I work with airbrush and spray paint for the wide range of effect that can be achieved using aerosol propelled paints as a medium. My paintings contain dramatic images with colours and tones to compliment the image, making a visual impact with every piece.
A pioneer in community formation, Robinson was fervently involved in endeavors larger than his personal art practice. In 1994, Robinson helped organize the West Avenue School Mural Project with Bryce Kanbara, a project that provided work for black youth to create a mural that covered the exterior of West Avenue School. Kanbara and Robinson frequently worked together, including in the 1999 Art Gallery of Hamilton exhibition Bill Viola: The Messenger, which Kanbara curated and invited Robinson to create a graffiti work on a wall inside the gallery. In 1995, Robinson organized Ontario’s first Concrete Canvas, a graffiti art festival originally held on the roof of Jackson Square, which is still active today.
Robinson’s commitment to raising social consciousness by making art more accessible continues to this day. In recent years, he has been involved with the I Was There! Hamilton project with the Northside Hip Hop Archive, and has been featured in Miami’s Art Basel. His work continues to explore the personal and political, having recently created a series of paintings based on ongoing issues of anti-blackness sparked by the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. By making his mark in public space through street art, gallery exhibitions and entrepreneurialism, Robinson has solidified his impact on the Hamilton arts community as we know it today.
Credits and further reading
Official website: Eklipz Art
Behance: Leon Robinson
Northside Hip Hop Archive: Eklipz
Shiona Mackenzie: Eklipz: Portrait of the Artist as a Youth Mentor
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