Tuesday, 30 July 2013


Saskia Leek’s DESK COLLECTION at the DPAG

Sally Ann McIntyre

 For a while I’ve been intrigued by the way that despite their small size, the paintings of Saskia Leek seem to open backwards within time, embedding visible duration within the a-temporality of the painterly surface. Such temporal shifts become amply evident in the sparse delicacies of the mid-career survey show Desk Collection, within whose chronologies the artist’s earlier works’ ambiguous confessionals morph into a distinctly conceptual grasp of surface. The paintings reach for “a distancing effect.” via the evocation of a layer of light or dust, a point of fading - the effect of time embedded in materials not supposed to last that long in the first place.

Certain paintings of the mid 2000s preserve houses as subjects, like wasps trapped in the amber of a hermetic, waxy airlessness. The atmospheric tone, like pickling fluid, is archived within the fading of its objects, like a 1970s kodachrome photograph recording within its scene an inaudible conversation, a refrain of music. The tone comes through, as not so much a golden light as a patina marred with age, a distinctly maudlin emptiness. The localisation of the depicted places sometimes swims though the haze, the “distancing” Leek describes as her part-intent.

Saskia Leek Animal Home (2007)

Maybe I like them because they recall the kinds of fifth-generation cubist and surrealist images that haunt the back-brains of those who grew up in the 1970s. The visual paradigms of the historic avant garde filtered down to popular illustration culture: compulsively nightmarish faux Odilon Redons illustrating post-hippie folk tales, read while sitting under surfeits of discoloured Degas ballerinas set against the regulation florals of Laura Ashley bedroom wallpaper. Something of the power of these works is their ability to communicate in ambiguous manner the potential talismanic nature of any thing, the way an object can be imbued with significance merely through being looked at for a long time, through being lived with in a room, the fleeting fantasy worlds that cohere and then dissipate, their sunbleached fading beyond usefulness and memory an evocation of the stories told and then forgotten within their presence.

The repetition within the show of the title ‘Untitled’ replaces the Modernist forestalling of the figurative with an evocation of the unknown histories of the found, the nameless mystery of the stray, the objects that cannot speak biographically for themselves but retain a mute materiality. To call an artwork ‘Untitled’ in this context seems a place-holder, a hope that one day this namelessness might find some archival logic. The works themselves stand in place of this inarticulation and extend its pathos.
The longing for another place, the nostalgia evident in these works is a throughline to romanticism. Perhaps Novalis’s statement, in a 1798 fragment, that “any beloved object is the centre point of a paradise”, might be usefully amended by Leek’s explanation of the drive behind her most recent works: “they search for a point of pictorial rightness but without an expectation of what that might be”. Fittingly, the hermeticism of this style becomes its own dead end, requiring a break, and escape, a rupture. Maybe this is why the breathing space afforded by the erased house (another Untitled) in the show’s concluding group is so satisfying, retaining the trace of these earlier works, but introducing an open gestural painterliness, alongside the blocky formalism of the represented object, spilling visibly out onto the frame as a smoky emanation.

Originally published in POINT issue#37, 24-30th July 2013.

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