Sam Leach’s virtuosic oil paintings, executed with exemplary brushwork and encased in resin, are thematically and stylistically informed by the still life tradition of 17th century Dutch painting. His mimetic works conflate the poles of the metaphorical and the empirical, the analogous and the objective, in an ongoing investigation of the relationship between humans and animals.
Theriophily and Substance extends this investigation as the artist draws connections between data visualisation techniques, formalist abstraction and zoological subjects. ‘Theriophily’ is a term coined by George Boas and refers to the historical idea of viewing animals as superior to humans, while ‘substance’ denotes, in Leach’s words, the “deeper reality of an object” – a reality that cannot be reducible. These concepts are tacitly woven into the artist’s body of work, which stages solitary animals and objects in analytical yet ambiguous configurations layered with vibrantly coloured geometric abstractions. With a distanced, scientific approach, Leach has created a series of paintings that are aesthetically reductive and largely devoid of emotion and sentiment. The incongruous interplay between formalist figuration and geometric abstraction in the works infuses them with a kind of trans-temporality, carving a distance – a rupture of recognition – between the viewer and the artwork. For Leach, artistic representation necessarily entails a level of aesthetic distancing, as understanding (in both art and science) is paradoxically aided by selectively removing or reducing information. The paintings purposefully forge a fissure between what is proposed by the artist and what is understood by the audience, and it is from within this interstitial space that a symbolic currency surfaces. Indeed, while the tension between representation and abstraction functions on one level to isolate the viewer from the subjects, we are united on a symbolic level by our coexistence on this shared planet. The paintings extend their focus on animal life to the spectrum of all life itself, encouraging the viewer on an existential level to cogitate their role as living creatures.
Leach’s work can be found in many important collections, including the Art Gallery of South Australia; Geelong Art Gallery; Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne; Newcastle Art Gallery; RMIT University, Melbourne; University of Queensland Art Museum and Artbank, Sydney. In 2010 Leach won both Wynne and Archibald Prizes at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and his work has been exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. Recent solo exhibitions include Sam Leach, Future Perfect, Singapore, 2013; Dymaxion, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney; The Ecstasy of Infrastructure, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria, 2012 and Cosmists, 24HR ART, Northern Territory of Contemporary Art, Darwin, 2010. The artist was recently included in the group shows Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2013; SkyLab, La Trobe Regional Gallery, Victoria, 2013; Haunts and Follies, Linden Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 2012 and First Life Residency in Landscape at Xin Dong Cheng Space for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2011.