Have you ever discovered that something you enjoy or admire is also loved by your favorite celebrity, musician or artist? That may be the case if you’re a fan of owls, cats and David “Lebo” Le Batard.
The subjects of Lebo’s artwork can vary depending on the message or symbolism he wishes to portray, but his owl and cat characters, or “totems” as he sometimes calls them, have become staples in his art as well as his charitable causes.
“What I’ve learned to do is treat those as my own cartoon characters, my own ‘Peanuts’ or my own ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ and those evolve and change through the paintings,” he says.
Lebo has featured owls in his artwork for the past decade. Growing up, Lebo first encountered the birds in the form of burrowing owls found in the neighborhood of his home. Upon further study, he realized the significance of owls in cultures throughout history, such as the bird representing the Greek goddess Athena and her city, Athens.
“It resonated with me, it resonated in ancient history, and people really seem to like it,” he says. “The nice thing about them is that as my work evolves I find that they can evolve along with it. So they don’t have to stay the same.”
The reputation of owls has evolved over time. While some cultures viewed owls as bad luck or a harbinger of death, others saw them as symbols of wisdom. Lebo says he likes to convey messages of hopefulness in his art, but also likes to allude to something beyond ourselves.
“They sort of become a vehicle for something otherworldly, and it seems to resonate with people and touch people, and that’s a nice thing because it does it for me too,” he says.
Like owls, cats make appearances throughout Lebo’s art. He says he grew up with one, but didn’t start involving them in his art until he started studying the style and art of Pablo Picasso. He says once the famous artist began with cubism, his artwork became cartoon-like and aesthetically graphic, which appealed to Lebo.
“I was looking in a retrospective catalog of his work and he had two pages of cats that he did,” he says. “I decided to really try to exhibit in my own small way the things I have learned from his work, and I started it through cats.”
Cats were sacred animals in Egypt, while many ancient religions considered them to be exalted companions and guides for humans. Various cultures claim the myth that cats have many lives, an idea relating to their reflexes and ability to land on their feet.
Supporting the care of animals
Lebo’s totems have been instrumental in his support of non-profit organizations. Much of Lebo’s charity work focuses on animals rights, such as a no-kill animal shelter in Miami or the Animal Recovery Mission, a non-profit dedicated to eliminating operations that cruelly abuse animals.
Lebo has even worked with Giving a Hoot, a sanctuary located in Florida that aids injured birds, especially owls. Lebo gives a portion of the proceeds from avian-related artwork to this wildlife sanctuary.
“One of the balances that I like to keep, especially since I’ve been able to make a living through my craft for so long is giving back and supporting different things beyond art that I believe in,” he says.
Lebo’s artwork is featured during Park West Gallery’s “The Art of Invention” exhibition, which runs from Sept. 20 to Oct. 18 at the gallery’s Southfield, Michigan location.