Jan. 23 2013 01:40 PM

Native San Diegan will show his hip-hop-inspired art at Blends

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Brian DeLeon and Judge Judy

The sound of blips and bleeps provided background noise for Brian DeLeon's phone chat with CityBeat last week. He was at his day job, he explained, in the testing room of the slot-machine company where he's a graphic designer. Born in the Philippines, DeLeon lived in San Diego for two decades before moving to Las Vegas for work. But he considers San Diego his home. It's fitting, then, that his first solo show here—from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at Blends (726 Market St., Downtown)—is called Homecoming.

But there's deeper meaning to the title. DeLeon, who's 34, started sketching when he was 4. It was only two years ago that he decided to return to where he started, opting for the simplicity of pencil-on-paper portraits. All his work is black and white, unless he feels a piece demands color.

"When you put color, you see color first, then you see the person," he says. "But if it's black and white, you see the feeling it portrays, the emotion, the personality. I try to grasp that with each and every one of them. Color is a whole different chapter; it creates a new story. When it's black and white, it's more about the subject at hand."

Though the media might be simple, DeLeon's portraits are bold and expressive, influenced by graffiti and hip-hop culture. Currently, he's working on a book of 100 portraits of hip-hop artists—rappers like KRS-One, Run-DMC's Rev. Run and Ice Cube. Each of the three is shown on DeLeon's Tumblr page accepting a print from DeLeon. Pictured, too, is DeLeon with Judge Judy.

Judge Judy? 

"I did an exhibit for a sports awards show here in Las Vegas," he says, "and the bailiff from the Judge Judy show was at a conference at that same spot. He'd seen my artwork, and he was, like, ‘Would you be willing to do a commissioned piece for Judge Judy's 70th birthday?' I was, like, ‘Of course!' Why wouldn't I?" As for his book, DeLeon's got a ways to go—he's completed roughly 30 portraits.

"I'll eventually dabble in other mediums as soon as I finish this book," he says, "but that's all I'm concentrating on right now."

Email kellyd@sdcitybeat.com or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly.

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