Art Cup Project
Artist: Sue Leeming
Title:Tree of Life: Tihei Mauri Ora
Medium: Oil and ink on canvas
Size (cm): 125 x 150 | Year: 2016
“So much time is involved in art. It’s not a hobby. Like any other small business, I work 7 days a week.”
We sat down with Sue to find out about the woman behind the painting and the painting in front of the woman.
What’s your coffee order?
Lactose free with one sugar. I usually have a cappuccino or a long mac.
Where can you view her work?
Follow me on Instagram or visit my website. I’m represented by Stala Contemporary, West Perth, who’s an incredible force in WA Arts. There was a group show for represented artists in June and another landscape group show coming in November. There are also some smaller group shows on the horizon as well. The next solo exhibition is opening at Stala Contemporary Art Gallery from 21 September 2022 – 8 October 2022. Find out about upcoming shows and current exhibits by subscribing to my website.
Why did you choose this piece of artwork for the cup?
A few reasons. The piece of artwork was a collaboration with a Fremantle-based fashion designer who mainly designs sportswear. It was one of the key pieces showcased at her New York fashion week in 2020 and a key piece when I relaunched my practice. I’ve got four kids and that had stalled my studio work for a few years. I was always painting, and I always had a studio space at home. Sometimes I would paint for commissions, sometimes for shows. But it had been difficult to work at it consistently. In 2016, I moved into an Artsource studio and could work regularly and this was one of the first pieces that I developed in that period.
This is a great foundational piece representing my evolving style. I explored new methods in this piece, which I hadn’t explored before on the medium of canvas. Working from a very fluid way of layering with abstract marks and forms and beginning to allow this landscape to form out of that. It started off very chaotic and fun and lots of happy accidents but then with those happenings I would then intervene and layer over. It eventually built up with layers of oil. I’ve never worked in that way before.
The title – “The Tree Of Life” is quite significant as well, to represent my foundations as a person. Who I am, my faith, my cultural background. I felt for me, for this piece, it was stepping out again as an artist, as a woman and allowing myself to have a creative voice in the arts. When I was offered the opportunity with Leaf Bean Machine, I thought this was a key piece for me. This was the one that keeps coming to mind. It has a presence. It’s a signature piece for my practice.
What is the story behind this piece of art?
The tree of Life is a symbol that can be responded to in a variety of ways. I think it’s the universality of that symbol that was important to me. In terms of my faith, I’m a Christian and it’s really important to me that my faith is open. Often when I mention my Christian background, it can cause people to close off a little. I wanted to have that openness and foundation with my voice and what I’m offering the community. It was important for people to see me as a Christian, as a woman, as an artist, a Maori, a New Zealander, and an Australian resident. It was important for people to see all of those elements of my identity.
I never work knowing what I’ll be producing. I didn’t think “oh I’m going to make a painting called The Tree Of Life.” I make the work, it emerges, and it reveals itself. This is common for artists who are working in a more abstract way. Allows that subconscious language to emerge. For me, that’s what works, as I often can’t articulate my thoughts. It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about enjoying the process. It’s a very sensory way of painting. I worked on this piece over a couple of months and then that dialogue emerged.
For this piece, initially, it was all painted flat. Once the canvas was primed, it was a matter of laying it down on the easel and it’s a mixture of pouring ink either concentrated or diluted with medium and then pouring the ink on the canvas.
I use brushes to guide the ink but also I might brush down in the direction I want the ink to allow it to spill into it. I might walk around and tilt the canvas from a corner or a side to control where it’s going. Usually, with the first layer of that process, I would let it dry and whatever I had let dry on that space would look completely different the next day. Because it’s all moving and drying. Then I might sand it down a bit and paint into it.
This piece was very fluid. Pieces since then have involved a bit more painting with a bit more deliberation with the mark making. When I poured this painting, the Tree Of Life just formed. When I let it dry and came in the next day and went, “oh my goodness, it’s the tree of life.” All I could see was this big organic tree. I was really taken with that connection of neuro pathways. Then it would be layering fine oil glazes, which creates tints. Then, of course, painting through the veins and shapes. It’s really an impulsive practice when I’m painting. I just see it emerge in front of me and follow that organic flow.
2020 I launched a solo show with Melissa Cook, who’s a designer at Giroud and she was a collector of my work, and proposed this collaboration. The show unfortunately got locked down because of COVID in March. But then we were invited by a New York fashion business called Fly In Solo and Melissa was invited to exhibit some of her pieces last year. We were both very excited.
Although exciting, it was also a challenging time. We were then invited to show in Miami but we didn’t go ahead with it because of personal reasons. I haven’t had a solo show since but recently exhibited in April in a group exhibit.
What appealed to you about this project?
We have a thriving art scene in WA, but it can be really challenging to survive financially as an artist. Many people don’t attend galleries or support artists as it involves more encouragement to go along. Many people need extra encouragement to come to a show, as it can make them feel overwhelmed or they don’t know what to expect. This project is important because it breaks down those boundaries. Breaks down the channel between artists and the general non art viewing public. Hopefully, get them to come to a show. Also, that they’re eco friendly is great. It’s not only supporting artwork on the cup, it’s also addressing waste. I just love the whole thing, really. I was really happy to be a part of it. Keep going Leaf Bean Machine!
Why is it important to support the arts?
So much time is involved in art. It’s not a hobby. Like any other small business, I work 7 days a week. I make sure I have time on the business and in the studio everyday. You live and breathe it. If people don’t support artists and people don’t buy art, I don’t eat. And as an artist, you don’t want to live off grants. Art is also amazing for your mental health. It can help with psychology and really turn your life around. If we support artists more, imagine the work we could do for the community’s mental and physical health. Regardless of whether you have an art therapy background, art has great potential to heal.