Written by Joanne Barrett
Photography by Laura Snelling and Photography Phreon Printers (artwork)
For as long as Leitch could remember he had a creative mind, so figured it would make sense to head to university to major in painting. He had barely ignited his arts career, when he experienced observances and defining moments that were to have a lasting influence on how he would work as an artist.
Sam recalls, “I was 19 years old in my second year at university and it was our final project of the year. I came in and found a little note next to one of my paintings then a few days later I met the lady who had left the note. The first thing she did was give me a hug. Then she spoke about how my painting brought back many beautiful memories of her childhood and as she spoke her eyes became a little watery.”
Up until this point Leitch says he really hadn’t understood that art could make someone feel like this. It made him happy to think his work could touch someone in such a way that the work became theirs to connect with on their own level. Leitch now realised that being an artist was his calling.
By 2012 he was working as a builder and living in Grey Lynn where he shared a tiny three bedroom flat, packed out with four people from the Czech Republic along his beloved dog Kobe. Despite the crammed living quarters and using the living room as a make shift studio Leitch devoted every spare moment to making art.
“This was a defining moment for me. I got it! My connectedness to everyday life is how I create great works!”
Amongst the works was an amazing piece titled ‘GO.’ He painted this over a period of four to five months and as the work was nearing completion, it occurred to him that during the process he had unknowingly absorbed everything around him and brought that to the canvas.
Satisfied ‘GO’ was finished, he approached Melanie-Jane Smith of the Poi Room, a Ponsonby and Newmarket based retail gallery that promotes emerging and established artists from across Aotearoa. She was so taken by this work, that next thing she was out at his studio looking at other works. Two months later in May 2013 Leitch had a sell-out show at the Poi Room and the extra positive was Kieran Smyth, owner of Smyth Galleries on Jervois Road in St Marys Bay, bought ‘GO.’
What did this sudden taste of success feel like for Leitch? He explains, “On opening night, just in that moment where everyone close to me was there to see what I had been creating, the wine the cheese the people, I loved it! Ever since then I have been chasing these moments, where all my family, friends, friends of friends and passers-by get to see my work. "I love witnessing their reactions. I want my works to take the viewers on a creative journey.”
It is true to say, his themes seem to come from human interactions borne from everyday life and play a key role in Leitch’s practice. Certain events and even singular moments in time have created works. He says travel is an influencer; the unknown of exploring then bringing that unknown point back to the canvas. He also says surfing gives him a creative energy that in a way feeds his soul.
There is an animated and vivacious energy about Leitch’s works. From his very successful exhibition “Under the Archway’ at Allpress Studio in Drake Street, Freemans Bay the works were aptly described as ‘dynamic and playful’ and as ‘seemingly hapless experimentations with intentionality.’ Indeed Leitch considers his practice to be experimental, yet intentionally deconstructed.
“It’s like peeling back the layers, deconstructing then reconstructing human characteristics and relationships."
Of his most recent exhibition, ‘They keep stealing all the oranges’ held earlier this year at Allpress Studio, Leitch says, “The underlying essence of my current works reflect more abstract lofty themes, with realism motifs coming through to display connections between icons and ideas brought from everyday life and placing them within surreal locations.” I usually work with around two pieces at once sometimes more, but it is over an extended period of time due to the layers of oil I use. I love the fact I can leave, then come back to play the paint, over a few days.”
It is no wonder then that an important aspect to Leitch’s practice is to venture out of his Whenuapai studio and absorb in human activity. He draws inspiration from the buzz around Ponsonby and Grey Lynn and embraces the multi cultured society of the city. He observes how art connects to the environment and how one singular piece of art can influence a space. It’s how humans react to that space that interests Leitch. He is devoted to creating art that brings visual pleasure and changes one’s feeling about their surrounds and environment.
“I think the influence of social media has changed the way art is viewed"
“Galleries and artists work together to promote the work with greater online presence that now seems to be a constant thing in front of us. There is a little part of this that I don't like. You see, art is real when viewed in person! Viewing art on a laptop or smart phone and turning something that’s often large scale into a phone size image can make the work look flat. But then again, more people are seeing it and that’s important.”
So, what of the future for this young up and coming artist? He is quite serious when he says, “I’m determined to showcase my works at the highest level and reach a wider national and international audience who appreciate fine art. “ Then Leitch ponders for a moment, “I want to engage people’s minds with my art, and yes, to have an exhibition in New York City or Europe somewhere would be amazing!”
There is a humble honesty about Leitch, yet he exudes enthusiasm and passion for what he does. He cares about people, he is thoughtful about the world around him and with his sights firmly pointed on reaching the stars - there is no doubt, his future is very bright.