He's Taking Street Art to the Digital World
© Jeremy Deputat
The visual artist and self-proclaimed perfectionist talks influences and what's over the horizon.
“I wish no one knew anything about Kanye West’s [personal life],” says Franco Campanella. “Then he would just be an amazing musical icon. Instead, he has all this extra baggage about dumb personal stuff that nobody needs to know.” Campanella, the 25-year-old visual artist known as leftyOUTthere, is sitting on a couch in Santa Monica and has a lot to say about all forms of artistry. And why shouldn’t he? The multi-talented artist spends a lot of time thinking about image. Or, really, the effect that knowing too much about an artist has on a viewer’s perception of its work.
After a few years of making street art anonymously in Chicago, Campanella felt like he had to “throw in the towel” and step into the limelight. Not for attention, but because he’s sick of trying to hide. “What if I came here today and had a bandana on my face? I’d look like kind of like an idiot,” he says with a laugh. “A lot of people just show their eyes, but that’s enough to recognize somebody nowadays, so what’s the point? … I think [people] should just look at what I make and completely disassociate that from my personal characteristics. I hate when shit like that gets washed into the art.” While Campanella’s dream to stay unidentified was dashed by reality and the internet, his original, anonymous moniker stuck.
“I’m obviously left-handed,” he says, grinning. “Lefty was a nickname I always had and I feel like I really associate myself with the stereotypical left handed characteristics, like I’m a little kooky.” As with most proud left-handed individuals, Lefty can tell you who his fellow southpaws are (“Leonardo da Vinci was a lefty, Michaelangelo was a lefty…my girlfriend is left handed”) and why he’s so proud of his fellow 10 percent of the population. “Lefty is just me saying that I’m a left-handed person out there [in the world] and that I’m out there in the sense that I’m different and innovative.” His commitment is literally skin deep — his first tattoo was the word “Lefty” written in script on the top of his hand (“I got it in case I forget what side is my left side [laughs]!).
That’s Lefty in a nutshell: thoughtful, creative, passionate and funny. This amalgamation is in everything that Lefty touches; everything is his canvas. Linking amoebas of solid colors expand within every leftyOUTthere piece, taking up all the space that they’re able to—almost as if they’re multiplying on their own. Lefty calls them “the squiggles,” and they’ve been with him for a very long time.
“I never paid attention in school,” chuckles Lefty. “I was, literally, always drawing interlocking patterns that filled a page.” This obsessive attention to detail expanded from his shape-shifting doodles even into his more representational art: “I used to draw a lot of X Games scenarios, but I wouldn’t just draw a guy on a skate ramp … I would [also draw] all like 7,000 faces in the crowd. I don’t draw one thing on a page, I throw up on the page.” Lefty’s art vomit passion is infectious. Even if you don’t “get” his art at first—as most of his friends and schoolmates didn’t — Lefty’s ready to explain this “interlocking shit” to you. When the doodles kept stacking up in his room, he realized that he wasn’t getting his art to the masses. “Finally I was like ‘Fuck it, I’m going to start stickering this stuff.’ That’s how my street art phase really began.”
By the time he was 21 (and the squiggles were popping up all over Chicago’s exterior surfaces), Lefty decided to go all in by quitting school and his restaurant job. While his parents, Italian and Polish immigrants, were concerned about this move, they were supportive of Lefty’s dreams. “I learned how to be a hard worker from watching [my parents]. They came from literally nothing 30 years ago and started a business and worked their way up. They’ve been working 80 hour weeks my whole life, but to see that hustle first hand immediately rubbed off on me.” A small smile creeps across his face. “They expect the absolute best and if I don’t deliver, they’re going to let me know!”
After taking the leap, Lefty stumbled onto an art scene in Chicago that could take his art anywhere. “CANVAS had a lot of underground parties that I would go to. At the time I was [experimenting] with video stuff and ended up producing a video piece for them. After that, I just kind of got sucked in.” Along with the collective’s founders, Preston Jones and Vincent Theodore, Lefty started to explore mapping his art onto a digital world. “My eyes were opened to all these new possibilities,” says Lefty. “Instantly my brain just started going crazy. That’s when I started doing video stuff, projection mapping and then we started doing VR stuff.” Now, as part of CANVAS’s Subchroma event series, Lefty’s been able to take the squiggles into the “real” world in new and exciting ways — including live VR painting at the Super Bowl this year with 50 Cent.
Just like the interlocking shit that he sees within each of his squiggles, the interconnectedness and creative fluidity of places like CANVAS and The Annex (where he’s currently the artist in residence) inspired Lefty: “Just seeing all the people that were coming through [CANVAS was really amazing.] Because it’s such a communal space so ideas are consistently bumping around.”
That incubator birthed Lefty’s many current and future endeavors including a clothing line — coverEVERYTHING — in its second season showing at NYFW this fall. “I just think there’s a lot of possibilities in fashion,” says Lefty. “It’s kind of like it’s own street art because [fashion and clothing are] out in the public. It’s a great way to get your art out there.”
“My motto is ‘cover everything’ and one more piece of clothing is just one more bit of my art that’s out there.” And whether it’s by garments, virtual murals or physical stickers slapped on a pole, Lefty’s going to continue trying to blanket the world.
Three great pieces of advice leftyOUTthere got and followed
1. If it’s not perfect, redo it
2. Don’t mention anything until it’s 100 percent
3. Put good energy into the world because it always comes back