Andy Leleisi’uao is unmistakably one of the most distinctive voices emerging in New Zealand art. His works are masterfully choreographed, epic in scale and have a calligraphic quality that unites the primitive power of hieroglyphs with the ambiguous character and social narrative of contemporary cartoon.
A “vast number of references and readings” (1) abound in every work and yet for all of the structural and narrative complexity, the presentation of perpetual endeavour and humanistic dynamism, each work also attains visual simplicity and remarkable sophistication. Leleisi’uao is engaged in an interior monologue – dream, myth, metaphor, domestic circumstance – in which identity is revealed as being “both fragmented and sequential.” (2)
How does one read or experience a Leleisi’uao painting? Some works (the Oacarus series) have a multi-linear narrative and sequential composition. Others (such as the Erodipolis series) establish vertically-sliced pictorial tableaux of mythic underwater life and environmental discourse. Cultural interplay, corrupt behaviour, silhouetted figures – half-human, half-animal – ghosts and spirits act out scenes of salvation or damnation. Moral and spiritual conflict arise, limbs become aspirational symbols and the tools of drama (the Cremorus series). Amongst all of this, a plurality of character with overlays of illusion and allusion mix the messages up so that images of struggle emerge which are individual and internalised whilst also indisputably universal in theme.
Stylistically Leleisi’uao has mastered a striking tonal and spatial dualism, building a calligraphic quality by limiting his palette, eschewing volume completely and using the narrative power of silhouette as a fundamental device yet when introducing colour using this intuitively and suggestively and in this way bringing the viewer to witness the troubled world of a rainbow people.
The Oacarus series enters the domestic world of our homes and a parade of the mundane begins as a creation story. We are what we do and how we live. Leleisi’uao’s pictorial virtuosity is equally evident in the Phelantis series where the weighting of the composition is more fragmented and diagonal with abrupt alterations of scale reminiscent of rock cave drawings. The atavistic and bestial cohabitate yet these are about now and us. No painting by this remarkable artist can be limited by explanation or interpreted solely by feel or knowledge or experience. Yes the works are ultimately enigmatic but there are answers everywhere if one starts to ask questions and pays attention to the constancy of what is revealed in the process and how powerfully this is done.
1. Jamie Hanton, “Tension of Contrasts,” Christchurch Press, August 6, 2010.
2. David Khan, COCA Gallery, July 6, 2011.
TO VIEW ALL 20 WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION, PLEASE SEE THE EXHIBITION CATALOGUE