For our third addition of Felicity Finds; we introduce local Melbourne renowned artist, Chico Leong. Chico is very well known throughout the scene of Melbourne as the co-founder of streetwear label Common Dust and curator of graffiti zine - Don't Sleep.
Having recently closed the doors at Common Dust and a health scare in 2020, Chico has turned his sights to solo freelance work where he is turning heads with a very unique style.
Big love to Chico for letting us into his creative space and giving the team and community of Felicity complete insight to how the magic happens.
F: Chico, tell us about how you grew into the art world from a young age?
CL: When I was a kid I was really into comics and cartoons. I didn’t care for sport at all, still don’t really so My time was spent drawing and trying to copy the comics I had. As I got a bit older, I started noticing graffiti. I remember having old graff mags, and I would copy the pieces in there. My brother and I would draw them all over this table we had. I wish I had photos of it, it was completely covered! When I got into my teens, I started tagging and doing pieces, they were so toy haha but I loved it. My love for lettering and typography definitely came from graff. Nothing creative really came easy for me though, my brother was a natural but I really had to work at it.
F: With a unique style like yours, where did the inspiration come from?
CL: When I first started doing design, I would do really clean designs, but it always felt a bit off, like they were missing something. A guy I used to work with, rocked into work wearing this Tee with a Fugazi flyer on it. I thought that was so sick, and became obsessed with the way punk flyers looked. I loved how they weren’t perfect and how there were tears and everything was cut and paste. So I started messing around with my own graphics using that style. I’ve always liked the work of Shepard fairy too. I wasn’t into street art but I just like the obey posters, loved how bold and basic they were. It was a mix of that, punk flyers, graphic design and decaying street posters that really inspired me to do the work I’m doing now.
F: When did the moment click that you knew you wanted to be a designer?
CL: For a long time in my life, I didn’t think about my future or ever think about what I wanted to do with my life, I just wanted to party, take drugs and have fun, as long as I had money to do that, then I was sweet. I worked different trade jobs, like car painting, construction and factory work. For years I wasn’t even really doing anything creative. After years of that, I realised that shit wasn’t for me and I knew didn’t wanna be a tradie. So I went and studied graphic design. Studying that really brought back my love for drawing and creating things and it also opened up my eyes to different styles of design. While I was studying and a bit before that, I was taking heaps of photos, so I started a photography/graff zine called Don’t Sleep. that’s when I realised That I always want to be doing something creative and be a designer but it wasn’t until 2020, when I had a bit of a health scare and ended up in hospital for a couple weeks that my life became a bit clearer for me. I had to have brain surgery and the doctor said there was a small chance I could die. That really made me think about my life and how I wanted to do things. Luckily I was all good after surgery, so when I came out of hospital, I just started going hard on my art and design. Full tunnel vision, that’s all I wanted to do.
F: You've recently closed the doors at Common Dust - tell us where it started
CL: My brother and I started Cdust after both having a break from working on anything creative. I think we worked on it for about a year before releasing any product. At the time, there wasn’t too many brands doing the grungey look, well not in Australia anyway. When we started off, online was kinda just starting to become more popular, but wholesale was still a big thing. So we started off trying to wholesale to stores, and after years of doing that, we ended up with a bunch of cool stores and international distro, Which was great, things were going well but I wanted to make the shift to mainly online and do smaller but more regular drops, as it seemed like that was the way things were going. We switched things up, cut back on wholesale and just started focusing selling online. Cdust was a great project, met so many good people, collaborated with a bunch of cool brands and got to make so much cool shit.
F: What were the challenges in particular you found difficult along the journey?
CL: Oh man, so many. Trying to stand out, find my own style, not worrying about what others thought and just learning to be patient. I feel like they were some of the main challenges for me. After a while I just thought, fuck it, This is me, I’m just gonna do my own thing and not worry about what others think.
F: What would you say your biggest highlight/favourite moment of your career is?
CL: This is a hard one. I’ve made and been able to do heaps of cool shit over the years. It’s hard to pick one thing. I’m very grateful for everything. I got a chance to make some collages for Travis barker a while back, that was pretty crazy to me, all because of a dm too. Social media is crazy like that. Also all the people I’ve met over the years from doing different creative projects, that’s been a highlight for me, made some good friends. I wouldn’t have those friendships if I didn’t choose the creative path.
F: Any advice for aspiring creatives getting started in the game
CL: Try not to focus too much on what others are doing, that’ll drive you insane and you’ll find it hard to develop your own style. Just do what feels right and try to make work that you’re happy about. Don’t worry about what others say either. Too many people out there hating, saying everything is wak or toy, but they’re not doing shit. If you’re happy with it, that’s the main thing. Legit, just don’t listen to all the haters who say it’s too hard to be a designer or artist. If you wanna do it, then just do it. If you’re creating things to be cool or seek validation from others, then you’ll always struggle with making something that’s true to you and you’ll probs burnt out and quit. Be patient, the creative path isn’t easy. Head down and work hard. Don’t expect shit to happen over night.
F: What are your plans for your solo artist work/future?
CL: I just want to keep pushing my art. Do bigger pieces and more walls, more commissions. I’m working on some cool collabs that I can’t wait to put out. Planning to have a show sometime. There’s a few brands that I’d love to work with one day, so really trying to manifest that shit and make it happen. The future is looking good!
To find out more about Chico:
Check out www.thefelicity.co for the 'Good News' tee while stock lasts.