Owen Leong

For issue 64 of Artist Profile, Owen Leong wrote about his artistic process.
Leong's fifth solo show with Artereal, Sydney, "Summoning Circle," is on view until 27 April 2024.

Looking back over my artistic practice, I can clearly see the signposts leading to what I’m making in the studio today. In recent years, I have been playing with cycles of creation and destruction: casting my body in gypsum and concrete, smashing these casts into pieces, and reforming them into new sculptural forms to be cast once again. Having worked with my own body for two decades, I now realise this moment was a gradual process of disappearing my body while hiding it in plain sight, like a magician slowly vanishing from the stage. I am gradually moving away from figurative work (physical or photographic) towards non-representational forms, and I’m enjoying the mystery, play, and discovery of sculptural materiality.

Recently I was invited by Artereal, my commercial gallery in Sydney, to make work for Sydney WorldPride, a global festival of LGBTQIA+ community, solidarity, and pride. Keepsake was a group exhibition that paid homage to the ideas of mementos, souvenirs, and reminders. As a celebration of queer pride, I wanted to take sexuality as something that is used to oppress my community and turn it into something boldly visible. I created a series of cast finger hooks on which sex toys transformed into sculptures were hung. I discovered the power of being both playful and political in my work while embracing my truth.

This year I have been developing and experimenting with new sculptures for The Unseen, a group exhibition in partnership with Parramatta Artists’ Studios (PAS) and Blacktown Arts Centre, exploring the invisible qualities of our world as a metaphor for personal or collective reflection. Through a range of approaches, the exhibition shows that the unseen can be reimagined through expansive and intimate gestures alike.

My starting point was to consider the seen and unseen: internal body systems, external systems of power, networks of social exchange, the giving and receiving of intimacy. I undertook several months of experimentation in the studio testing ideas, playing with forms, and creating new materials.

I researched ancient Chinese anatomical illustrations of internal organs. I wanted to translate these into sculptures and experimented with hand cutting them into large pieces of leather. I also hand cut old black denim jeans, leaving only the architectural seams, and worked with the webbing to create suspended networks of denim, like raw skins or psychological Rorschach tests.

Working with a foundry, I fabricated bronze finger hooks, cast from my own hand. I also made bronze mushroom hooks, cast from linghzi mushrooms used in traditional Chinese medicine which has informed my practice over many years. I liked the idea of the mushroom head as only the visible fruiting organ of a vast network of invisible hyphae beneath the surface, hinting at the unseen world beneath the everyday.

Alongside studio experimentation, I spent time learning new skills to add to the vocabulary of my material language. I undertook a rope intensive course in queer shibari, the Japanese art of rope bondage. Beyond learning fundamental rope and knot techniques, what I took away from that experience was the emphasis on communication, care, consent, and intimacy. I used some of the rope knots I learned as connection points to suspend my new sculptures.

As part of my research into Chinese bi discs, ancient carved stone discs referencing the connection between the celestial and terrestrial worlds, I took courses in clay hand building to learn the basics of pinching, coiling, slab building, and glazing. I attempted to make them out of porcelain, but found these were too literal a representation, so I simplified the forms and started to hand build large porcelain rings. Glazed in fleshy pinks and magentas, the pinched porcelain looks like fleshy gum tissue or a ring of muscle.

After producing all the materials, I spent time carefully assembling and reworking them into coherent sculptures. Satisfied that the final pieces were moving towards non-figurative sculpture, I was also delighted to realise they are still sculptures as a form of self-portraiture.

I recently commenced a two-year residency program at PAS Rydalmere Studios from 2023-25. I’m excited for the journey ahead exploring the open-ended possibilities of my expanded sculptural practice. I look forward to exploring this in future projects while blending my culture, community, and personal aesthetics.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, issue 64 

Summoning Circle 
5 – 27 April 2024 
Artereal Gallery, Sydney 

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