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Interview: Gallery Show co-creator Leslie Winchester

The Comedy Gallery is a brand new show combining the visual arts and the comedic arts into one big goopy mess. On display will be drawings of comedians by the lovely and talented Leslie Winchester as well as photographs of comedians by Ameen Belbahri. The Comedy Gallery takes place Monday April 18th at the 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco, CA. The show will also feature performances by Baron Vaughn, Kris Tinkle, Jules Posner, Janine Brito, Brendan Lynch, Joe Gorman, and special guests.

We caught up with Leslie Winchester to talk about the show.

How did you come up with the idea for The Comedy Gallery?

I was thinking about how comedy has become a big part of my life. I’ve been working as a cocktail server at Punch Line Comedy Club in SF for two and a half years, and I’m exposed to comedy four or five times a week there. I found myself wanting to be involved in that industry somehow because I’ve grown to love comedy. I’ve always enjoyed drawing portraits of my friends and classmates since I was young, and I took a bunch of portrait and figure drawing classes in art school. The majority of my friends are comedians now. I decided to combine my passion for portraiture with comedy, and the result is The Comedy Gallery.

It seems like many artists have worked at the SF Punchline. Aiyana Udesen. Ameen Belbahri. Kris Struble. Is there something in the water at the Punchline that makes people really good artists? Do you ever collaborate with your fellow waitstaff on art projects or shows?

Comedy is all about being creative and being inspired, and I think it attracts artist types naturally. It’s a great place to work. I was in two art shows with Aiyana Udesen at Show Cave and Dose of Art Gallery in LA this past Halloween. Ameen Belbahri will display his photographs of comics in The Comedy Gallery. He’s also helping me produce the show.

Your artwork tends to be more abstract. How did it feel to switch from your usual style to taking portraits of comedians.

I like to make abstract images, but I’ve always struggled with the style and the process. Those images come from my head mostly, and the contents tend to be vague and almost isolating to the viewer. By drawing people from real life, I get more passionate feedback, and it’s much more relatable and engaging in general. I also like that it’s a collaboration between me and the comics. For example, Alex Koll put a chair on his shoulders. I love it when they come up with random ideas like that.

What have you discovered about comedians from taking their portraits?

They’re excited to be drawn! Also, I’m completely intrigued by the reasons they become comics. I like to talk to them about where they came from and why they talk about the things they talk about on stage.

Your depiction of comedians tend to portray them in a childlike manner. Is this intentional?

It’s not intentional, but I’m more aware of it as I keep making more. I think it’s because I grew up drawing from Japanese comic books, and they all have big eyes and child-like qualities to them. Also, comedians speak without censoring themselves on stage, a bit like kids tend to speak. That’s one way of interpreting that aspect, but it’s not intentional.

What are you planning to do with the portraits? Are they for sale?

I want to make zines, which are hand-made books, with the portraits. Once I make a hundred drawings, I’ll make zines and sell them. I also want to make individual prints to sell, then the originals, eventually. I’m planning to hold The Comedy Gallery in Los Angeles in May, as well as other shows here in SF soon, so I’d like to keep the originals for a while.

The Comedy Gallery takes place next Monday April 18th. Tickets are available through brown paper tickets.

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