Member of the Week – Leo Monahan

Aug 12, 2023 | Featured Member, News

White Horse

Leo MonahanLeo Monahan (Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles 1988 Lifetime Achievement Awardee and President 1966, 2080 & 2081) was born in Lead, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He spent most of his childhood in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore and lived a Tom Sawyer like existence among a few hundred people strung along five miles of creek.

High school graduation and the Korean War both took place in June 1950. Leo enlisted in the U.S. Navy and spent most of the time in Korea and Japan. After being discharged, he entered Chouinard Art Institute of Los Angeles. He attended that famous school for four years on the G.I. Bill and the first Walt Disney scholarship ever awarded.

Leo started his career as a freelance designer in 1959, but within a year, Studio 5, a design and photography studio was formed with three established professionals. Studio 5 serviced the recording and entertainment business. After five years of designing movie ads, packaging, corporate programs, display and some 1200 record covers, he left Studio 5 and joined an association of free lance illustrators called Group West in Los Angeles.

At Group West, Leo concentrated on design projects, television promotion and the paper sculpture illustration that he had been developing since leaving Chouinard Art Institute. During ten years at Group West, Leo established himself in television promotion and as the pre-eminent paper sculptor in the Western U.S.


Leo Monahan Paper Sculpture Photo: Anne Rayner

ParrotHe formed his own business in 1977 and with a group of employees serviced a large national ad agency as In 1979, KNBC TV awarded its advertising account to Leo and for six frantic years, he built an advertising agency based on television, entertainment and corporate accounts. He was also becoming a nationally prominent paper sculptor illustrator. Leo says the immutable law of advertising finally saved him. He lost the big account. He was not discouraged in the least, but looked upon this event as an opportunity to get out of the advertising business. He closed the agency and design studio and began operating as a free lance paper sculpture illustrator with representatives in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Japan and Germany.

His paper sculptures are used extensively as illustration for major national and international advertising and publishing projects. He is among the best known paper artists in the world and he is represented by galleries in the California, Arizona, South Dakota and the Southwest, as well as being exhibited in specialty museums nationwide and annually in the Peppertree Americana and Western Art Show. The sculptures are a combination of classical paper sculpture and dimensional collage. His richly textured technique and the use of strong symbols create an impressionistic surrealism of his childhood, which was spent among cowboys, miners, Indians, farmers and lumberjacks.

BoatsHis work is in numerous private collections, the Pentagon and the Smithsonian Institution. He was awarded the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Exemplary Service Medal for art related projects completed as a 27-year member of the Sheriff’s Reserve. The Los Angeles Society of Illustrators, of which he is twice past president, awarded him its Life Achievement Award for his years of illustration excellence.

During his 45 years as a designer/illustrator, Leo has also taught design and color at Chouinard Art Institute, USC, Disney, and the California Institute Of The Arts, as well as being a sought-after speaker at colleges, universities and other schools. He also has given illustration, design and other art related seminars for Japanese art students in Japan and in the U.S.




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© no artwork displayed can be used without permission of the artist, Leo Monahan