Leo Shallat was a web designer when he went on a vacation to Europe in 2017. On the last day of his trip, he decided to quit his job to pursue an outlandish passion: calligraphy.
In London, Shallat had met a world renowned calligrapher, Paul Antonio, who offered him a scholarship to study the art — a moment Shallat described as “surreal” and “magical.”
“I just had this good moment of inner peace and I kind of just knew,” Shallat says. “A voice in my head was like, ‘you're really burned out on making websites. You're an artist. you should really give yourself the opportunity to try and be an artist.’”
Shallat is now a muralist and multi-disciplinary artist based in Seattle, creating works ranging from wall paintings to murals that span entire buildings. He has created works for major clients in the city, including the Seattle Art Museum and Tableau. Shallat’s work is inspired by dance, movement and most recently, exploring the world through “different philosophical lenses.”
Shallat has been an artist for more than a decade. He first started his art career doing hip-hop culture-inspired graffiti in Seattle when he was in high school. He later attended The Evergreen State College, where he took classes in business.
“I sort of always knew that I wanted to apply whatever I was learning in that context towards making artwork,” he says.
After graduating college, Shallat had “a few successful ventures” that helped him save money to do art full time. He eventually joined his friends’ website design cooperative, which worked on marketing and digital strategy for clients.
When he received the calligraphy scholarship from Antonio, he was “pretty eager for that change to happen,” calling Antonio one of the “biggest game changers” of his career. Shallat spent 2018 commuting between Seattle and Dallas, Texas, on a monthly basis to pursue the scholarship, taking intensive courses to fine tune his calligraphy and lettering abilities.
“(Antonio) gave me a lot of these foundational tools to work with that really informed my art,” Shallat says. “It kind of was a big confidence booster in a lot of ways, getting a scholarship from someone who I really respected.”
The coronavirus pandemic has caused Shallat to feel very overwhelmed, calling it a “force multiplier” for the chaos of the world. Shallat’s studio has been his “safe haven” from the pandemic to create art.
The pandemic has caused Shallat to take a step back and be thoughtful about the message he wants his art to put forth. He says it’s “accelerated the pace” of him developing a new artistic style.
“I want things to feel a lot more simplistic and refined, but still have an elegance to them,” Shallat says. “I don't want to add to a feeling of people being overwhelmed, or any sort of chaotic frenzy, which I feel like could describe some of my earlier work.”
Shallat’s greatest accomplishment, he said, is the fact that he’s been able to make a living for himself as an artist. Shallat describes himself as a “total outsider to the art world,” but is proud that his work has resonated with people. He hopes to continue doing art for all, such as murals and public work.
“I see the trajectory of my work in particular incorporating all the elements of things that I see are important right now, like innovative architecture and like my art being part of spaces for people,” he says.