By Adolphus Ames –
“My life is like Forrest Gump’s,” said Cape Charles resident and visual arist Leland Sharp. “I’ve done so much you’ve got to see it to believe it.”
Sharp, born in Harlem, N.Y., has lived a remarkable life. He has worked in the music industry, been a photographer, a nightclub promoter, and a celebrity stylist.
He moved to Cape Charles in 2016, but had been visiting the Shore since childhood.
“My mother is from Cape Charles,” Sharp said. “In my late teens, I actually came down here and completed my senior year at Cape Charles High School.”
After high school, Sharp joined the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina from 1979 to 1982. “After I left the Army, I went back to New York and studied music,” he said. “I worked with a lot of amazing musicians. Jazz composer and producer Roy Ayers taught me everything I needed to know about the music industry. William Allen, a keyboardist, taught me how to write chords and structure songs.”
From 1984 to 1994, Sharp worked as a record producer and artist manager. “I wrote songs, too,” he said. “A lot of them played on the radio. I was involved in artist management and production for TLC’s debut album ‘CrazySexyCool.’”
In 1994, Sharp moved to Los Angeles and continued working in the music industry. Around this time, he also became a photographer. “I mostly took photos of people,” he said. “I shot a lot of beautiful women and faces and did album covers and promotional work for musicals artists like Silkk the Shocker and Big Pun. I also became a celebrity stylist. I styled Eddie Murphy’s clothes and hair for seven years.”
Sharp’s musical knowledge and photography skills weren’t the only thing that granted him access to celebrity circles. For several decades, he worked as a nightclub promoter and special event coordinator through his company Sharp Faces Entertainment.
“I began promoting and coordinating special events when I lived in New York,” he said. “There used to be a club in downtown Manhattan called Nell’s. I went there one night and the idea suddenly came over me that I could throw a party here. I got a DJ, talked to the owner, and the rest is history.”
Sharp credits his promotional success to Prince. “One night Prince was being interviewed on the radio and mentioned that he liked going to Nell’s on Leland’s night,” he said. “That’s how I blew up.”
Sharp’s parties soon took on a life of their own and he developed a reputation as a Jay Gatsby-esque figure. “My parties in New York and Los Angeles were the places many celebrities wanted to be,” he said. “They were big, festive, classy, and filled with beautiful people.”
His parties brought him in contact with some of America’s most famous celebrities, including Kevin Hart, John Singleton, Sally Richardson, Magic Johson, Madonna, Mike Tyson, LisaRaye McCoy, Tupac, Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes, and the Jackson family.
In 2004, Sharp left the music and entertainment industry behind. Art became his new calling. “Life is about knowing who you are and finding your purpose,” he said. “I didn’t feel like my true purpose was being in that world and I’ve always had an interest in art.
“I went to art design school for three years when I was younger, but I didn’t like it. There were too many rules and structures that limited creativity. I prefer to work freely and let the art flow out of me.”
Sharp describes the style of his work as abstract hyperrealism and primarily paints faces, women, and geography. “My first paintings were portraits of people that are iconic in my eyes,” he said. “My first painting was of Malcolm X and after that I created Dizzy Gillepsie, Richard Pryor, and Myles Davis. All of these men are very influential to me and made a large impact on the world through their respective crafts.”
At first, Sharp painted for his own enjoyment. It wasn’t until 2008 he decided to sell his work. He doesn’t follow a specific schedule or routine when he creates. “I’ve never lived my life on the clock,” he said. “I don’t wear watches. I don’t believe in time. It’s a human construct. I paint when I want to. Sometimes, I paint every day for a few months and sometimes I don’t paint at all for a few months.”
Whenever Sharp reflects on his eventful life, he always remembers a conversation he once had with Murphy. “He told me something I’ll never forget,” Sharp said. “He told me don’t worry about doing one thing in your life. Do everything. Many people work well with chaos.”
For more information about Leland Sharp and his paintings visit his website https://lelandsharp.com