Meet St. Petersburg-based artist LeRoy ‘King of Art’
Artist Paul LeRoy Gehres works among a wide variety of personalities including LeRoy Picasso, Lucky LeRoy, and Lonesome LeRoy. “LeRoy” is tied to the person referred to in the work, who often depicts celebrities, artists, and political figures.
The prolific artist, 61, is popular at The Factory St. Pete. It’s a fitting location for the artist’s studio, whose work is partially inspired by Andy Warhol, the pop artist who worked at an iconic New York studio called The Factory.
Gehres values the built-in audience at The Factory St. Pete and says the work has received more attention and discussion than ever before.
“You know, it was really good here,” said Gehres.
Gehres prefers to be identified with the pronoun “we” that goes with an alias, LeRoy “King of Art”. The moniker King of Art came at a time when Michael Jackson was King of Pop. There is also a game called LeRoy, which in French le roi and means “the king”.
With the various personalities of the artist come imitations, especially from Warhol. Gehres disguised himself earlier than he and visited the grave of the late artist in Pennsylvania with friends and make art there. Celebrity Warhol-style paintings and prints are made under the nickname LeRoy More Hole.
“More” is a common theme at Gehres. There is an astonishing amount and breadth of work in the artist’s St. Petersburg Studio. A melange of photos, paintings and textiles is layered and attached to a wall. Everywhere you look there are containers of paintings and spray-painted postcards depicting celebrities, local figures, artists, and political figures.
One of the most notable things about Gehres’ work is the close attention it receives to current events and pop culture. The latest headlines are printed on fabric, often about events that happened on the same day.
Kara Behar, founder of The Factory St. Pete, said Gehres was “the epitome of keeping up with the media.”
Gehres viewed work as a form of journalism, a teaching moment called Collecting the Smear Since 1961. Inspiration came from life through the birth of the 24-hour news cycle.
The work makes bold statements, like the installation at The Factory St. Pete, which calls for “Undo whiteness,” inspired by the death of George Floyd. The message presents different sides – Defund the Police and Defend the Police are on a banner. And there are messages in which we ask for forgiveness from controversial political figures.
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Gehres said the piece is about love and change.
The basic colored polka dots of the Wonder Bread logo run through the installation and Gehres is wearing a matching t-shirt.
Gehres explained that the outfit is intended to draw attention to the fact that white is not branded, “and people have to say that it is something because that is the change”.
Another green installation addresses climate change and shows pictures of activists like Greta Thunberg. Gehres dressed appropriately for each of the projects.
Including current events in the work arose from thinking about what Warhol would do if he lived today. Gehres’ works include a tribute to the victims of the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, one that reflects the torture in Abu Ghraib and another that includes images of the US border. These works are not for sale.
Gehres sees this as a duty.
“It’s a Warhol thing,” said Gehres. “It’s hard to take in all of this tragedy and then turn it into art.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Gehres holds an Associate Degree in Fashion Illustration from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh (1982), a Bachelor of Fine Art from The Cooper Union in New York City (1986), and a Master of Fine Art from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (2006).
Warhol was still alive when Gehres was at The Cooper Union in New York, but the two never met. Gehres was not influenced by Warhol at the time, but focused on photography and filmmaking.
Gehres became “obsessed” with celebrities when Anna Wintour started putting her on the cover of. to put Fashion, around the late 1980s. This inspired Shoe Prints, Gehres’ drawings of famous faces on various shoe models. To date there are thousands of them.
After graduating, Gehres founded an illustration company nicknamed LeRoy “King of Art”. The illustrations appeared in The New York Times, interview and The village voice. Drawings were made to illustrate event lists in The New Yorker.
Gehres’ work has been exhibited worldwide, including at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and at the 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial.
Gehres has been designing for the fashion designer Anna Sui for about 10 years. The artist’s design for Sui’s 2004 collection adorns a T-shirt modeled on Naomi Campbell. The design was revived for the Sui Spring 2022 collection.
Gehres moved to St. Petersburg in 2012 to be close to the family. Places where Gehre’s work has been shown on-site include the Morean Arts Center, Woodfield Fine Art, ArtPool, the Tampa Museum of Art, and the Mize Gallery.
Steven Cohen is one of Gehres’ collectors. They met in New York in 1987 when Cohen hired Gehres as an assistant in a design agency.
“I saw this young genius,” he said. Cohen said Gehres always “invents and creates” works of art in between jobs.
For Cohen, Gehres is the “next Warhol” because the work is so conceptual. He owns innumerable works by the artist. He always finds Gehres’ work fresh.
Whether you’re portraying celebrities, artists, or political figures, there are more than a few you need to find on Google, which, according to Cohen Gehres’ way of teaching a lesson.
“The homework is for you to go further,” Cohen said. “It’s very interesting. It’s always this deep meaning.”
Gehres recently made a giant Chanel-style suit out of fabric inherited from Cohen’s late brother and plans to make skirts out of the fabric. A new personality based on Karl Lagerfeld, the longtime designer of Chanel, was adopted.
Gehres is at the Art Walk studio at The Factory St. Pete (2622 Fairfield Ave. S) the first two weeks of each month from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the second two weeks of each month from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the second Saturday of each month . Call ahead to arrange a studio visit at 727-200-4086. More information is available at leroy.land.