Andy Leleisi’uao – Quaint People of Nuanua – 13 Oct-7 Nov, 2015
“This is an agnostic snapshot where past, present and future collide in trying to make sense of the next life.”
– Andy Leleisi’uao
Quaint: attractively strange or old-fashioned. Synonyms: picturesque, charming, sweet, attractive.
Quaint is exactly how the latest suite of paintings from Andy Leleisi’uao appear. Leleisi’uao transports the viewer to a world of vibrant colour and magic entities. An industrious buzz lingers in the air as the people of Nuanua are in a continual state of productivity. Glistening jellyfish hover across the community watching over the beings below: people who live in harmony with exotic animals of all shapes and sizes. Oversized objects are a part of everyday life. Gigantic flowers must be transported and organised, along with the puzzle pieces, coloured cubes and building blocks for towering origami birds. There is never a moment’s loneliness, for friends are abundant. Size and status makes no difference to the people of Nuanua, their skin tone unites them, they live devoid of clothing. And if ever there is time to ponder the question of belonging, the Nuanueans only have to look to the horizon where the ever-present rainbow-peaked mountains immediately remind them that this is home.
However these paintings are not merely quaint. There is great depth behind them referencing broad concepts, whilst harking back to various artistic traditions. Their striking originality stems from Leleisi’uao’s persistence in portraying narratives and personalised motifs as he contemplates life and the after-life.
The whimsical portrayal of figures and objects in this show evokes imagery of 15th century Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch. In particular one thinks of the central panel of Bosch’s most famous triptych, The Garden of Delights, which illuminates the story of Adam and Eve. It is a joyous scene of nude figures busily interacting with oversized fruit and bizarre animals within an exotic wonderland. In the painting Quaint People of Nuanua Leleisi’uao has also created a densely-populated exotic world but the painterly techniques and aesthetics are quite distinct from those of Bosch. Leleisi’uao’s palette is brilliant, with vivid colours providing optimistic energy. He abstains from the modelled brushwork and intricate detailing of Bosch, opting for simple silhouetted figuration. This graphic approach brings to mind the Matisse cut-outs, with their contrast and sharp-edged delineation, or the dynamic figurative interaction of comic strips. The figures are so flat, their skin of identical colour; sometimes one body merges with the next producing near abstract masses. Horizontal bands cross the canvasses as if they were flags, yet the images can be read up and down, right to left. Mountains in the upper band lend a sense of background and perspective. This flattened picture plane brings all the action to the viewer’s attention in one hit, providing a snapshot of everyday life in Nuanua.
Throughout the history of art and across cultures, the use of symbols has been integral. Leleisi’uao’s Samoan heritage helps decode some but by no means all of his unique symbols. At times his work has referenced social problems: migrant factory workers, corruption in churches and other issues with political undertones, but the exhibition Quaint People of Nuanua focuses more on community, friendship and cooperative effort. The setting is utopian and Leleisi’uao’s utopia could well be in the Pacific, but may not be as the ocean is never depicted. Nuanua could as easily be on a continent, or a planet with extra terrestrial life. Maybe it’s a place that has not yet existed, located in a sci-fi realm within Leleisi’uao’s imagination.
He has a Q thing going on. Titles: Quaint People of Nuanua, Quietism People of Nuanua, the Quirky, Queer, Quixotic and Quintessential People of Nuanua. Is Nuanua a qutopia?
Building blocks allude to single parts being used to create a whole, just like a successful collective population. Puzzle pieces could symbolise a similar concept. The Rubik’s Cube, a recurring motif, evokes ideas of being perpetually connected, and Leleisi’uao sees it as a temporary man-made rainbow. Perhaps these objects talk about solving the puzzles of life. Origami birds are often a symbol of peace, but why have they become giant structures in these paintings? Specific meaning is personal for Leleisi’uao as symbols become instruments in his hands. He suggests: “the symbols have relevance and are connected, but are more from intuition than understanding.”
Marian Maguire and Jane Bowman, October 2015.