SAM LEACH: DYMAXIONEXHIBITION CATALOGUE
DATA SET OF THE MULTIVERSE
Time travel only seems to occur in one direction. That is, we only ever move into the future, a moment of never ending expansion. By contrast the past seems closed to us. The past is a place of conclusions and outcomes and grand historical certainties that, no matter how much we might wish that things had turned out differently, they are always the same. We are here, now, and the past is the road that brought us to this moment. But Sam Leach’s work proposes another intriguing possibility: the past is to our imaginations something like the future – a speculative zone of interpretation and inquiry that, from our vantage point, we might reimagine the workings of the contemporary world.
Leach’s paintings have long borne witness to the artist’s interest in the status of the image in art history, from late modernist abstraction to works of figurative landscape painting, most notably Dutch painting of the 16th century. Combining these interests with additional elements taken from contemporary sources – animal and wildlife photography, architectural constructions and models – Leach’s images have a trans-temporal aesthetic.
Through Leach’s exemplary brushwork a parallel is created between these otherwise opposite-seeming styles of images: where the realist language of pre-modern painting sought to reveal its subject through the effacement of emotive technique, the language of geometric abstraction sought to eliminate it from the subject of the painting entirely. In Leach’s work, formalist figuration and utopian modernism co-exist, a tension between representation and abstraction. In Van Dalen in Dymaxion, ¬ Jakob van Dalem’s Landscape with Origin of Civilization  is arranged to fit within the frame of Buckminster Fuller’s dymaxion, a icosahedron map projection that, when laid flat, allows continents to be shown at relative size. Where Van Dalem’s metaphoric picture suggests how the civilized world might proceed from the picture, Leach’s revision suggests the picture precedes the world.
In 2012 Leach was offered a commission with a specific request. The artist should include in the works the circular registration targets used by Jasper Johns. All other considerations were at his discretion. This suite of works evolved from that commission and through the works elements of that visual motif can be seen, notably in the paintings Bat Target Perception 1 and 2 and in Cinder Rings. In the context of Leach’s painting, and the other elements of modernist abstraction that can be seen in Cinder Geometrical, the tension between the historical past of van Dalem’s image and the modernist overlay is even more acute. The status of knowledge and representation comes into play in these indexical images, paintings that have the stillness of the museum and the pathos of a disappearing world.
The writer and critic Brian Aldiss defined science fiction as “…the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge.” Leach’s paintings are testament to that attempt at definition, collating and composing pictures that he sees as analogous to data visualisation. Data visualisation typically orders information in ways that allow the viewer to comprehend relationships, such as in graphs, diagrams or maps, but in Leach’s paintings the relationships are more opaque. What, for example, are we to make of the relationship between the sheltering apes in Monkey Water, and the space probe-like apparition of Fuller domes sitting on the rocks behind? Or the baleful creatures inside another dome in Mouse Deer In Fly-Eye Dome?
The data here is arranged with the poetry of the artist’s eye as its guiding organisational principle, the estrangement between cognition and interpretation made all the more strange by congruity of the juxtapositions. These arrangements of figurative and abstract parts are not shocking, and are almost natural in their arrangement, perhaps speaking in part to the artist’s skill at finding a pleasing composition, but also speaking to the fact that in our world of effortlessly collaged images, Leach’s canvases have a classic feel.
When we enter into a fiction we allow ourselves to be persuaded by the workings of the narrative. Its seductive force is our complicity with the process. A story is told and we imagine all the particulars. In painting, as in cinema and fiction, generic trappings give us the clues to understanding. But in the science fictional sweep of Leach’s work, the cues and clues are jumbled and mixed up even if the telling seems perfect. This is the estrangement factor of science fiction at work in the realm of the past. There is no definitive explanation of what all these pictures might mean, either to the artist, or to us, the viewers. There is however a shared world where all of this coexists, in the transaction between what is known and proposed, and what is shared and understood. As Aldiss put it, we are indeed in state of advanced understanding, but what it means, and how it goes together, is a collaborative process that takes us into the future.