John Leben was born on October 17, 1945 in Chicago. He has been married since 1971 and has two daughters. John Leben is an active artist as well as the owner and president of Leben Productions, Inc., a media production company. He has a BFA in Painting from the University of Illinois in Champaign (1968), and an MFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1971).
As an artist, John's passion has always encompassed a wide variety of media. He learned the ancient arts of fresco and glass mosaic in the woods of Northern Maine as a scholarship student at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1968). At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he built robots, experimented with Xerox technology in paintings, and inched closer to electronic media, in both his imagery and his tools. He graduated with honors in 1971 winning the Kuniyoshi Traveling Fellowship which paid for a 6-week tour of European museums, galleries and churches.
After returning from Europe, John 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. His paintings of this period utilized Xerox technology for developing images with a theme of degeneration caused by the involvement of technology. John worked the Chicago gallery scene for two years winning critical acclaim for his 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."
Marshall McLuhan, Feb. 14, 1972
In 1973, John's growing interest in technology as media led him to the video publishing industry where he took a job as the art director of Deltak, an educational video publishing company. For the next five years, John grew with the industry as Deltak pioneered the use of video for communications.
In 1977 John formed Leben Design to build models, design studio sets and produce animation sequences for Chicago-area producers. He 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.
In 1980 John formed Leben Productions, Inc. to produce video programming 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 animation utilizing John's design and animation skills. As time evolved, more and more work came from corporate communications projects and corporate image programs, taking advantage of Leben's high production values and ability to reach an audience.
The company continued to evolve as Leben 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 Leben continued to service Chicago clients but also took off in a new direction: independent programming.
As this new direction evolved, Leben produced documentaries for both the home video and broadcast markets. He began feeding programming about Michigan to public television and selling copies in retail outlets around Michigan. During this time Leben Productions produced "The Ludington Carferry," "Tulip Time: A Colorful History," "Secrets of Successful Innkeeping," "Our Town: The Making of a Ballet," "The Sound of March," "The Badger: Flagship for a Dream," and 26 half hour episodes of "Painting on Location with Bob Fagan," a PBS TV series.
In 1995, Leben began slowly disentagling himself from the web of commitments associated with Leben Productions to get back to his roots... back to painting and the fine arts. His work of this period was embraced by the Michigan art world exhibiting 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.
At first Leben shunned the use of electronic media in his new work, sticking to painting, drawing and sculpture but his love/hate relationship with technology drew him back to video and the computer. His 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
This ground-breaking show combined the story-telling skills Leben developed as a television producer with shocking and imaginative imagery inspired by the frustrations of working with the technology of media. The show tells a story of a world filled with technological stress through a combination of traditional and electronic media.
In 2001 Leben mounted an interactive gallery show at the South Haven Center for the Arts with a video installation 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 his dismay and frustrations with technology through his art, Leben mellowed his message and focused, again, on his roots as a draftsman and graphic artist with a series of pen and ink drawings of his surroundings, followed by a new relationship with his computer as an art medium. His latest work "Silent Stairways" is a series of digital paintings created on his Macintosh computer and printed in limited editions using Epson fine art printers. Each line and each color are meticulously applied layer by layer with digital pen or mouse into the computer much like a traditional printmaker would scratch lines with a stylus on copper for an etching plate.
But the pictures, not the technique, are the stars of this show. These images are appreciated both for their nostalgic value, and, more viscerally, for their evocation of mystery, solitude and ascendancy.