Sam Leach: Present at Hand

Posted on October 10, 2010



Sam Leach, 'Wallabies', 2010, oil and resin on linen and ebony, 20cm x 30cm. Courtesy: Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art.


Artist’s statements are a funny old business. People who may ordinarily be quite good communicators suddenly develop a penchant for labyrinthine writing styles and grandiose phrases. They start referencing philosophers, French theorists and assorted scientists, feeling that this lends the work (and by proxy themselves) a gravitas they clearly think is lacking on its own.

None of us are completely immune to this syndrome. The statements I’ve written for my own work all seemed fine at the time. Most became totally cringe-worthy later. At best artist’s statements are extraneous. They can add a few personal details or a bit of background info that couldn’t be gleaned from the work; unnecessary, but (hopefully) interesting. At worst, they can be distracting, confusing and pompous. Most art is best served by the artist learning to keep quiet.

With this in mind, I rarely read artist’s statements. I prefer to interpret the work for myself. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I did read Sam Leach’s statement for his solo show Present at Hand. In just over 350 words he cites not one, but four learned gents: Martin Heidegger, Graham Harman, Bruno Latour and Mark Fisher (who neither I, nor Wikipedia, are familiar with) and he talks a lot about theories relating to objects. Now Leach’s paintings are of animals, so I was initially a bit confused. Surely animals, as sentient beings, are subjects, not objects??

But then, on the third re-read of this part, “In Latour’s Actor-Network Theory humans and non-humans (technology, animals, plants, social and corporate entities) have agency, or the (ability) to act within networks. But objects have a reality that is irreducible to their relations. A painting may derive its meaning through relations to a viewer, but it is still irreducibly an object,” I decided that Leach is revealing an obsession with the nature of his paintings as things.


Sam Leach, 'A pair of vicarious walrus', 2010, oil and resin on linen and wood, 30cm x 45cm. Courtesy: Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art.


In this exhibition, Leach seems particularly anxious to highlight the artifice of his work. He does this by deliberately messing with his own hyper-real style. Many of his animals are shadowed by cubist versions of themselves, like not fully rendered CAD animations lifted from a movie loaded with digital effects. Or occasionally, Leach will intentionally mar his perfect painted surface with a clumsy brush stroke. In his two unframed works, the thick resin, which gives his paintings their seductive depth and gloss, is allowed to drip over the sides like mini stalactites. By revealing the tricks of his trade, Leach demands that we acknowledge his paintings as objects which have been constructed, not as reflections of some reality.

The thing is, I would have drawn this same conclusion about the work without reading the statement. My interpretation may or may not be the point Leach was really trying to make, but in our post-post modern world, in which the author is well and truly dead, (and here I go with the French theory, thank you Roland Barthes!) it doesn’t matter. Art will speak for itself whether the artist wants it to or not!

Tracey Clement

Sam Leach: Present at Hand is on at Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art until October 24, 2010.

Posted in: The Good