I was born and raised in Chicago. My first taste of formal training in the Arts came when I was in 8th grade. I received a scholarship to study art along with talented art students from all over the city of Chicago. We attended lectures and classes every Saturday morning at the famous Art Institute of Chicago. Those Saturday morning sessions sealed my fate and put me on the path to a lifelong obsession with my goal: to be a professional artist. I majored in Painting and Printmaking in college, attending the University of Illinois in Champaign, eventually earning a BFA and graduating with honors. At graduation I was awarded a fellowship to study art for the summer at the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Northern Maine where art students from all over the United States gathered to study and work with professional artists an educators from the East Coast. Next, I earned a fellowship to study art in the MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My studies there culminated in a show of my work in the galleries of the museum and an MFA in Painting and Printmaking. I also won the Kunioshi fellowship to study art in Europe for the following summer. After returning from Europe, I worked as a painter in Chicago exhibiting in several group shows and having a one man show at the Michael Wyman Gallery on Ontario Street. My paintings of this period utilized Xerox technology for developing images with a theme of degeneration caused by the involvement of technology. I worked the Chicago gallery scene for two years winning critical acclaim for my work.
"...the triumph of a single idea pushed to it's variational limits."
Franz Schulze, Art Critic, Chicago Daily News
"... a step ahead for art and for Leben, who obviously has the ability to make serious studies from computer waste."
Don Anderson, Art Critic, Chicago Today
"I enjoyed your... use of Xerox machines as art media. Lately I've been studying Xerox in relation to news leaks and their powers are the same pattern politically as you have discovered artistically."
My Xerox work sparked a growing interest in technology and eventually led me to video publishing, a Chicago industry in its infancy at that time. It was an exhilarating five years working as an art director, pioneering the use of video for training, learning set design, film and video animation and video production.
Seeking more independence I quit my job and formed Leben Design to build models, design studio sets and produce animation sequences for Chicago-area producers. I developed LebenSet Modular Set Design Systems and began marketing and manufacturing modular sets and other studio set design tools nationally, installing over 100 set design systems to broadcast and corporate clients nationwide.
Next, intrigued by the creative possibilities of video I formed Leben Productions, specializing in documentary, motion control and animation. At first, Leben Productions did work for business and industry, in the area of training, and mostly on projects that required heavy design and animation skills. As time evolved, more and more work came from corporate communications projects and corporate image programs, requiring higher production values.
The company continued to evolve as I moved the business to Saugatuck, Michigan, a quaint resort town on the shores of the Kalamazoo River near Lake Michigan. Being 2-1/2 hours away from Chicago I continued to service Chicago clients but also took off in a new direction: independent programming. I produced several documentaries for Michigan public television. The company grew as I added more employees to service our growing commitments.
Then, Leben Productions took on a formidable project: to create an entire TV series about painting that was aimed at the public television market. We produced 26 half hour episodes of "Painting on Location with Bob Fagan," a PBS TV series that aired on over 100 public television stations around the US and Canada. The series received rave reviews over the next few years and attracted a loyal following of viewers, but never turned a profit.
Disenchanted with "business," I began slowly disentangling myself from the web of commitments associated with Leben Productions to get back to my roots: fine art. My work of this period won some notoriety with exhibits at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Midland Center for the Arts, The Kalamazoo Institute for the Arts, Paint Creek Center for the Arts, and the Muskegon Art Museum.
My prodigious output during 1996-97 resulted in a one-man show called "I've Got the Tek-NO-Logical Blues" mounted during the summer of 1997 at Good Goods Gallery in Saugatuck winning critical acclaim and an invitation to exhibit at the Emerging Artist's Pavilion at the Los Angeles ART EXPO in the Fall of 1997.
"It is without doubt, the most unusual and prophetic show to be mounted in Western Michigan in many years..."
Fred Glazer, Art Critic, July, 1996
My next one-man show was in 2001 when I received a grant from the State of Michigan to create an interactive installation at the South Haven Center for the Arts with a video as its centerpiece. The video, called "Haircut", dramatized the devastating effects that the rejection of technology can have on humanity.
After ten years of venting my dismay and frustrations with technology, I mellowed my message and focused, again, on my roots as a draftsman and graphic artist. The result was "Silent Stairways," a series of digital paintings created on my Apple computer celebrating the West Michigan landscape. I used these digital paintings as printing plates to create limited edition prints of my paintings in several different sizes.
Silent Stairways became my first entry into a revolutionary art exhibition in Grand Rapids called ArtPrize in 2010. 1500 artists exhibited their work in over 100 venues around Grand Rapids that year. I showed seven large 24x72-inch prints of my Silent Stairways at the Grand Rapids Ballet starting my annual tradition of ArtPrize participation.
In 2011 I showed "Fukushima" at ArtPrize, a massive 30-foot wide digital painting at the Courtyard Marriott. In 2012 it was "American Idol," a large canvas triptych at the Fountain Street Church. In 2013 I brought three digital paintings from my fledgling "Urban Punk" Series called "Solutions for a Crowded Planet" to 50 Monroe Street, a commercial building in downtown Grand Rapids. In 2014 I exhibited my biggest painting ever... a 20-foot tall digital painting called "Outhouse Island" at that same downtown venue. In 2015 I expanded on my Urban Punk concept with three large digital paintings called "Back to Nature" at the Park Congregational Church in Grand Rapids.
I continue to exhibit and sell my work at art shows and galleries around the Midwest and Florida occasionally winning awards and accolades for my digital paintings. I am currently preparing for my next one-man show in the Armstrong Gallery at the Holland Arts Council to open on Friday, January 15, 2016. It is called "Urban Punk" and will include most of the images you can see on this website in the Urban Punk Collection. I'm also working furiously to create a lot of new digital paintings for this show.