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April 8, 2013 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Visual Arts – It’s the Little Things: Saskia Leek at the Dowse

Desk Collection is a retrospective of Saskia Leek’s paintings currently at the Dowse in Lower Hutt. The name comes from the fact that every painting included in the exhibition could have been made at a desk; they average A4 in size. The paintings are intimate in subject as well as
scale. Leek’s early paintings recall her teenage years, populated with small figures dotted across a painterly ground. They combine seemingly unrelated symbols and snippets of text that encapsulate the roving, unsure imaginations of teenage girls. This is a deliberate: in an interview she explains “The way I make work is a little idiosyncratic, in that I don’t really know what I am doing before I start.” The unconscious nature of these paintings endears them as more open and authentic, if sometimes a little naïve.

The later paintings in this exhibition show a distilled focus that Leek’s earlier works lack. Pastel yellows, blues and pinks assert themselves
as the dominant palette, giving muted form to the landscapes and buildings which make up the subject matter before disappearing into abstraction. The strongest paintings here combine delicate muted backgrounds with linear detail, in one case juxtaposing an industrial structure against the pastel. Saskia Leek has also experimented with the frames of some of these later paintings, extending the rough, unfinished strokes on the borders of the paintings out across the white wooden frame. The Cubist tendencies in these later paintings evoke the amateur or the school project, bringing naïve art into the ‘high art’ setting of the art museum.

While this exhibition is centred around the smallness of Leek’s paintings, it could perhaps have benefited from a less spacious system of
display. The paintings are so widely spaced across at least four or five rooms that they lose connection to one another. Against a white wall
the pale palette becomes even more washed out. While within each single painting this tells of intimacy and vulnerability, the combined
effect causes the entire exhibition to lack visual impact. Such a generous commitment of space for a contemporary New Zealand artist is very
welcome, however. Leek’s exhibition is fresh, and forces the viewer to turn their attention to the small — reminding us in the process that small does not always equal minor.

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