Home-Grown Artist Eleonor Leon Looks to the Future

July 13, 2015

Eleonor poses next to a photo of Linda Rondstadt, an idol of hers.

Eleonor poses next to a photo of Linda Rondstadt, an idol of hers.

by Mariana Colín

For years, Elenor Leon has been one of the many local artists who devote their time to making Downtown Tucson a more beautiful place, most recently through her shop, La Fashionista, formerly on the corner of 6th and Broadway. Though she was born in Nogales, Eleonor grew up in what is now Barrio Viejo just south of Downtown, where she says she gained her most formative experiences of Tucson culture.

“My mother’s house was very much like my shop,” she says, reflecting on her biggest artistic influences. “I remember her winning every first prize for Halloween costumes. She would drive us Downtown, where there were a lot of thrift stores, and wouldn’t stop until she had every piece that she needed for a costume.”

It’s her mother’s attention to detail and love of the modern pop culture of the time that Eleonor remembers as having the biggest personal impact on her art today. Eleonor describes her mother as a costume artist in her own right, and keeps her in mind in all her fashion art. “Everything that I do is based in my background, history, experiences as a child, environment, who’s around me.”

Eleonor Leon's art hangs in the Tucson Musician's Museum beside other local artists'.

Eleonor Leon’s art hangs in the Tucson Musician’s Museum beside other local artists’.

This conflation of modernity, pop culture, and history that defined Eleonor’s experiences growing up is what creates the uniquely Tucsonan personality that shows through Eleonor’s art. From fashion to canvas, her Hispanic roots combine with the funky, eclectic, and sometimes downright strange vibe of Tucson culture, a mashup of everything that makes Tucson what it is today. She cites the influence of Tucson’s largely Latino cultural history and a Warhol-esque attitude of “low art becoming high art,” which mixes well with (as she puts it), “the Mexican way of creating something out of nothing.”  A bold, glittering portrait of fellow Tucsonan Linda Rondstadt, currently hanging in the Tucson Musician’s Museum, expresses Eleanor’s (and Tucson’s) aesthetic perfectly.

Though you may not have realized it, you’re probably already familiar with Eleonor’s work. She did the photography for the Downtown Tucson banners, which pepper the lightposts up and down Congress Street.  As with all her work, Eleonor’s approach to the photography you see every time you go Downtown was meticulously thought through in terms of style and method. “You don’t need a hotshot camera to be creative,” says Eleonor, referring to her comparatively low-tech creation of the banners. It’s an attitude she extends to all art: “Art is something you’re born with,” she says. “If you don’t come with creativity, there’s nothing I can teach you.”

Eleonor's banners display her vision of the culture and aesthetic of Downtown.

Eleonor’s banners display her vision of the culture and aesthetic of Downtown.

The job of choosing the images that she thought best represented Downtown was something she says she jumped at the chance to do. Her attitude toward art and life has no room for second-guessing oneself, driven by a complete faith that what is meant to happen, will happen.

Eleonor wastes no time thinking about the past. Looking forward, she has more than enough potential projects; the only question is which to tackle first. Though her main focus will always be clothing and fashion art, now she is considering ways in which she can bring her artistic flavor to Tucson again on a different platform.

“The most difficult thing to do is stage performance,” Eleonor says, in spite of, or perhaps even because of, the natural shyness she acknowledges in herself. “Art is a personal, quiet thing that you do,” she says, “but music, and any kind of stage presence is immediate, and that’s even deeper than unveiling your soul in art.”

In the future, Eleonor Leon will continue to be a vital contributor to the artistic culture of Downtown. In addition to her upcoming performance art, she plans to continue teaching art classes and personal art, style, and fashion tutoring. Her social media accounts remain open, where you can contact her about her public and private lessons. You’ll also see her work at Second Saturdays and Day of the Dead celebrations, as well as potential projects involving fashion shows and Tucson’s bike culture, with a focus on vintage Mexican clothing. But wherever Eleonor goes next, you’re sure to recognize the native Tucsonan’s love for history, fun, and fashion in all she does.