Hubert Burda Media

The Geek of Paint

Witness the marriage of art and science in SAM LEACH’s works. But what’s up with that monkey that won’t go away?

Sam Leach is an artist magnetised by science.

Effortlessly coalescing art and science, he is celebrated for producing paintings that blend 17th-century animal portraits and futuristic settings. It’s not the most conventional path for a fine arts dauber, but through his works, he hopes to explore the changing relationship between humans and nature.

This he does by incorporating elements from interplanetary space, such as drone-like astronauts and satellites, and getting inspired by The Guardian’s science blogs, pre-modern Dutch artwork and BBC podcasts.

An ardent sci-fi fan, the 40-year-old credited his outer space fixation to Singapore’s waterfront park — Gardens by the Bay: “The idea of an artificial mountain in an air-conditioned dome sitting on reclaimed land is quite poetic.”

Although his Singapore debut was made this year in September, Leach has dropped by frequently since the 1990s. Led by his keen interest in aviaries, he visited Jurong Bird Park — a spot that provided him with many feathered friends as subjects for his paintings. His inaugural showcase was with FuturePerfect at Gillman Barracks, staging a show entitled Careening Meteorites and the Early Mind. Basing the name on a lecture quote from Professor Barbara Maria Stafford, the mixed medium exhibition focused on the development of the human mind. It encompassed oil on wood paintings, rock sculptures based on NASA artefacts and an audio component composed by Tim Young and Dan Gawler.

“In viewing the show, there is a chance to move between perceptual spaces,” he explains, of the use of the variety of medium. In accordance with research — that more parts of the brain are active when listening to music — Leach also utilised radio sounds of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere to engage the minds of viewers.

However, painting birds or meteorites was not always part of the Australian’s plan. Formerly an Economics student, Leach was first acquainted with art while discreetly sketching caricatures of his professors in university. After graduating, he led a double life working at the Australian Tax Office in the day while pursuing his Fine Arts degree at night. “I enjoyed the economics. However, being a part of a giant bureaucracy was also frustrating at times,” he says. After winning an art prize, Leach left the corporate world for good and has never looked back since.

With wildlife — namely big cats and primates — forming the essence of his work, the recurring ape in his paintings isn’t just monkey business. In fact, it has proven to bear a deeper meaning: “The strangest person you know is the person closest to you. This is what I find with primates.”

Leach’s philosophical input in his work doesn’t just stop there. He adds: “I try to hold my paintings in a temporal stasis so that it seems like the image is not a still from a movie, but a single extended moment.”

In spite of his fascination from the cosmos to the Stone Age, Leach keeps his reality checked and his head out of the clouds. “No painting can be a perfect model of the world,” he concludes.

Leach’s next exhibition will be in November 2013 at The Fine Art Society in London and at the Art Basel in Hong Kong in May 2014.