When Saskia Leek began exhibiting her paintings in the early 1990s, her subject matter was drawn from her real and imagined memories of growing up in Christchurch. Her naïve, almost childlike style quickly established her reputation within the New Zealand art scene as an artist who was willing to question accepted principles of ‘good painting’. The materials used - vinyl rather than canvas - and the brassiness of Leek’s style revealed a ‘nastiness’ in contradiction to her naïve vision.
This exhibition introduces Leek’s most recent work. The title Forget the dead you’ve left, taken from the Bob Dylan song ‘It’s all over now, Baby Blue’, alludes to a double meaning. While the painting and sculpture abandon specific references to time and place, the works convey an autobiographical dimension that has dominated her work in the past. Initially the works appear crude and amateurish; her naïve style is often absent of scale and perspective. Leek’s choice of media, acrylic on board, lends the works a second-hand quality. The cheap frames enhance the raw humility of the works.
The essentially feminine subject matter in this series of work elicits strong nostalgic responses. The scenes remain anonymous and mostly vacant but suggest things from Leek’s past - things left behind but not forgotten. Her bleached palette even recalls the faded colours of memory - pastel yellows, faint blues, washed out greens and hazy pinks.
Settings are often occupied with unidentifiable characters. Traces of stories emerge, echoes of memories lightly captured in paint: a translucent face suggests the reappearance of an invisible friend; a deserted house waits for a family to call it home. Memories of state housing and the false optimism of the 1960s are recalled, as are sentimental notions of the obsolete, outmoded and out of date.
For a long time Leek has used pop culture references taken from movies and popular literature for her source material. The frozen nature of these works means they can even take on the appearance of a film still. The paintings reveal an unmistakable nostalgia for the pop culture of her youth. Unpopulated forests are reminiscent of Walt Disney fairy tales whilst the anonymous figure holding onto Bob Dylan’s arm might be the artist herself, recalling earlier work in which she projected her teenage fantasies and crushes into paint.
A parallel can be drawn between Leek’s work and that of Tony de Lautour (also currently showing at City Gallery). Both exhibitions emphasise the growing trend of appropriation amongst today’s artists. Stylistically the two artists are similar - there is often a hint of malice manifested in the works - but they are even closer in their respective intentions in that they both produce nostalgic depictions of New Zealand’s shiny, well-mannered past.
Saskia Leek - Forget the dead you’ve left is generously supported by Ivan Anthony Gallery, Auckland.