We had the good fortune of connecting with Leslie Van Stelten and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leslie, what do you think makes you most happy? Why?
“You are what you do, not what you say you do.” – Carl Jung
What makes me happy is being an artist. It’s not the identifying as an artist, but the actual creating that gives me joy.
Why does creating make me happy? Because it makes me feel like an eternal child. My imagination is always active, I love playing and making something out of nothing, I’m often in awe of my accomplishments and my failures teach me that there is so much more to learn.
In my adult life, I have been a photographer, a videographer, a dj, a bartender and a fine art painter, not to mention all the side jobs and gigs to make money and support my projects. I’m always reinventing myself which makes my life engaging and interesting. I never know what I’ll be doing the next week or month. The next project or gig has allowed me to meet so many interesting people, travel around the world and most importantly, look inward. There is nothing like looking at a blank canvass. What story do I want to convey?
The downside is, like many artists, I have not had the best economic success because I am always creating rather than promoting. For example, I get embarrassed trying to push an identity of myself in order to attract followers on social media platforms. Yet it’s so important to do this so that people see your work. Ultimately I want people to be moved by my creations.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a photographer, videographer and fine art painter. My photography portfolios http://www.leslievanstelten.com consist mostly of fashion, portrait photography, music videos, headshots and still life. I also shoot real estate photography for Imoto Photo. What I enjoy photographing the most are people. I love fashion shoots and conceptual shoots with actors, comedians, musicians and nightlife personalities.
About 5 years ago, I had an epiphany while falling asleep that I needed to learn how to paint. All these figurative and portrait paintings flashed in my head. Since then, painting is mostly how I feed my creativity.
I think what sets me apart with both my people photography and paintings is capturing human emotion and all its complexities. It truly fills my soul with purpose and gratitude. As a portrait and figurative artist, I photograph and paint to convey a story about my subject that the viewer has to interpret. A fleeting expression, a gaze, a smirk caught in a moment can tell epic tales of victory and struggle in the recesses of ones mind. I strive to provide the viewers a moment of escape from their own epic lives.
I got to where I am today professionally from putting in lots of time and work. Some estimate that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. I don’t know if that’s true because we have our own personal innate talents. However if you don’t have the discipline to make your craft a priority, then you’re never going to master it.
The main lesson I’ve learned along the way is to always create from your soul. What this means is that you should always do your own thing even if it’s not popular or trendy. No matter what, there are always people out there that will connect with your work and there are always going to be people that don’t.
I want people to know that through the good times and hardships, I always seek solace through my creative projects. I hope it shows in the work and inspires people.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Everything has become very challenging with the pandemic. I have no idea what’s still open.
But if my good friend were visiting I would take him/her/them to lots of the music venues to see shows. My favorite venues are Red Rocks, The Mission Ballroom and some of the more intimate music venues like the Gothic Theatre, Bluebird Theatre and The Ogden.
We would go to some of the restaurants like Root Down, Linger and Happa Sushi. We would also grab some cocktails at places like Willians and Grand, The Ramble Hotel and The Broadway Roxy.
If my friend were queer like me, we would definitely go to some of the LGBTQ+ bars like X bar, Blush and Blue, The Triangle, Charlies and Hamburger Mary’s. Plus maybe some clubbing at Tracks Nightclub.
We would also go to some local galleries like K Contemporary, Abend, 1261, Redline, Walker Fine Art Gallery and all the galleries on the west Colfax art district like Next Gallery and Edge Gallery.
I would also take my friend for a two day escape to Buena Vista where we would soak in the Mount Princeton Hot Springs nearby.
In Denver I find the most interesting people to hang out with are the local musicians. They are sweet, fun and super talented. Denver definitely has a great music scene.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There have been so many people along the way that have inspired me.
My college friend Scott Mast once quoted Confucious “Choose a Job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” This impacted me greatly and lead the way for my life’s journey.
My parents have always shown so much love and support with whatever crazy adventure I was up to.
My art school teacher, Larry Shirkey, taught me not only the technical skills of photography but also how to think differently.
My best friend, Camille DeGrocco, has always made me laugh and been my #1 fan. Plus she has lately been my muse for my paintings
Finally, the one person I have always found solace in is Author Kurt Vonnegut. Whenever I am doubting myself or taking myself too seriously a quote from Kurt Vonnegut will put things into perspective. “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” or “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” My favorite books by him are Slaughterhouse Five and Gallapagos.