The art of Jim Leon, 1938–2002


Psychopathia Sexualis (1967).

This, dear friends, is what the art of the fantastic could give us but rarely does, something which combines the metaphysical intensity of the Symbolists with a post-Freudian sensibility to create what Philip José Farmer once called “the pornography of the weird”. Jim Leon was a British artist whose work gained prominence via the underground magazines of the 1960s, especially Oz, although he was never really a psychedelic artist as such. Many of his earliest paintings show the influence of the Pop artists, it was only later in the decade that a distinctly original and surreal imagination came to the fore. Oz was always pretty scurrilous and had no qualms about challenging the authorities with bizarre sexual imagery which other magazines would never dare to print. Leon and other artists were fortunate to have such a public forum for outré work, a few years earlier or later and they might not have found an outlet at all.


Untitled (1979).

His early work blended influences from Francis Bacon, surrealism and the baroque. Lurking there is also the English visionary William Blake, together with the obsessive Romanticism of the pre-Raphaelites. A number of his early paintings and drawings refer to William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (first published in Paris in 1959). These were just some of the ingredients of an amazing, semi-abstract, spatially complex, ritualistic, orgiastic flesh-painting, expressing highly wrought morbidity, eroticism, transcendence and ecstasy; astonishing explorations of the murkier depths of the human mind. (More.)

A Very English Visionary by Simon Wilson.

I first encountered Leon’s work thanks to David Britton’s curating of a portfolio feature in Wordworks magazine which was republished in the Savoy Books anthology, The Savoy Book in 1980. Having seen a Leon painting in a back issue of Oz I was surprised that an artist with such a powerful imagination was so little-known. It turns out that he’d been working all along, albeit far from the public gaze, having moved to Lyons in France where he spent the 1970s and 80s painting many canvases of mystical scenes similar to those produced by the California artists featured in the Visions book. None of his later work explores the darker realms of his earlier Psychopathia Sexualis drawings, and since it’s the early work that I prefer, that’s what’s featured here. These drawings and paintings bear comparison with the art of Raymond Bertrand but where Bertrand has had his work published in lavish book collections, we have to rake through back issues of magazines for Leon’s endeavours. Leon’s later paintings at least have a website which is maintained by his family.


No title or date.


Psychopathia Sexualis (1967).


Psychopathia Sexualis (1967).


Two untitled drawings, presented as a spread in Oz #31 (1970).


Necrophilia, Oz #36 (1971).


Untitled spread from Oz #40 (1972).


Untitled spread from Oz #42 (1972).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Sibylle Ruppert
The art of Mati Klarwein, 1932–2002
The art of John Hurford
Visions and the art of Nick Hyde
The art of Bertrand
Oz magazine, 1967–73

16 thoughts on “The art of Jim Leon, 1938–2002”

  1. I have most of the works above in my copy of the Savoy Book you’ve mentioned. That drawing, with Karl Mark being masturbated, well… he probably wouldn’t have liked that (or a blowjob!). Much too worried about aspects of communism to consider sex as one of the fine arts (if he ever gave any thought to the arts at all…), I guess. Well, I stick to the senses.

  2. I’ll keep it short and to the point. This guy should have illustrated ‘Les Chants de Maldoror’ while he still had his youthful intensity.

  3. Wiley: I agree entirely.

    Márcio: I’ve never been able to decide whether that is Karl Marx or not. Given the era it could well be, of course, but it could equally be Lot with his two daughters (an allegedly incestuous relationship) and the city of Sodom being destroyed in the background.

  4. I should have said above that if anyone knows the origin of the Psychopathia Sexualis drawings, please leave a comment. They weren’t published in Oz and as far as I recall Dave Britton didn’t remember where he found them.

  5. Jim Leon – id forgotten about him – i remember doing a web search a few years ago and finding almost nothing. But that was also true of Barney Bubbles and Wilfred Satty until you wrote about them.
    I love posts like this, John.

  6. I have an artist’s proof copy of the untitled and undated picture you illustrate here. It is dated 1971 and signed J Leon aand inscribed Epreuve d’Artiste. Just a snippet to add to the body of knowledge!

  7. the old man and his two daughters were once explained to me by my dad has beeing lot and his daughters but the lookalikeness with marx might well have been a private joke
    barton should hold on to his signed etching as it might be worth a littlemoney in lyon auctionsales
    you can see alot more on jim official site:

  8. my father went to art school with Jimmy ,my mother still has some of Jimmies work ,i was born in 64 so athough Jimmy as my mother always refered to him would maybe have known me i have no recolection of him myself ,i always remember an oil paining done by Jimmy of a woman with a long neck that my mother owned that was sadly stolen in burglary a few years ago now ,my mother told me it was of Jimmies “wife”

    anyways its nice to seee some more of his work

    i myself work mainly with the airbrush for my artwork

    rgds Paul

  9. i myself have a small sketch my mother tells me was done by Jimmy tucked in one of my fathers old reference books [picasso] done by Jimmy

    “impression of the late Willie “Buerk” Johnson” playing a trumpet


  10. hye folks!you can now find some of jim’s stuff on youtube and facebook as every mean to spread his work are to be used ,my sister and mum are planning to hold a celebrating show of his water concerned works on the twelth of november 2012 in lyon france at the gallery l’oeil ecoute meanwhile keep on truckin under the sky which is ever falling down! his son renaud

Comments are closed.