Rainbow Dreaming in Woodstock
An Interview with Leigh Arnold
by Stephen Wright
When did you start thinking of yourself as an artist? The first time was when a friend of mine, Fred White, who is now a pretty well-known sculptor, called me an artist. That was the first time I thought about it! But probably about twelve years ago I started to make my mind up that I really wanted to do something, for several reasons. I was dyslexic and I didn’t even know I was at that point. I couldn’t write but I used to have no trouble getting jobs, but by the 90’s jobs were drying up, so I started then.
What do you think an artist is?
I reckon an artist’s job is to interpret, to interpret the world as they see it. But it’s also a journey, constantly pushing yourself...it’s a way of growing, you know. I don’t want to be stuck in a café just talking the same garbage over and over every day of the week. In some of my paintings which warp, or might look as though they are, I’m trying to show the space-time curve, or the things that people don’t see, or show the mathematics of these things. The mathematics is one of the main structural elements of my work.....but that’s my Asperger’s. Right from being a kid I could always pick where, for instance, my grandmother’s carpet pattern joined up and repeated itself, and that sort of stuff. It didn’t matter what sort of pattern it was. And I can do the same with numbers.
It’s as though you’ve taken the diagnostic label ‘Asperger’s’ and said “ Hey, this is a different way of thinking about the world, and this is what it looks like.”
Yeah. I’m compulsive. When I start a picture that’s it, I’m in that picture, and I can be in that picture for seven hours. That’s it. I just go there, and the mathematics of the work has to be really precise. A fraction, a mil out, will upset me, where a lot of people probably wouldn’t notice. But I’ll still fix it. It’s like you go off to this other place.....Yeah, with breaks to change the CD!
What sort of development has there been in your work over say, the past five or ten years?
Well seven years ago I didn’t even paint. But these days I’m starting to do abstracts, every so often. I really enjoy them because it’s a totally different way of working. I think an abstract is more about the journey than the picture. When I do an abstract I don’t even start with a concept, or even a colour choice. I just pick a colour and see what happens. I like it because it’s more free.
That’s a big shift for you... Is it like the maths of chaos theory?
Well, I’ve been working on that kind of idea actually, where each bit you put in will dictate where the next bit has to go, so the randomness can help it grow itself, so I won’t actually be directing it so much. This is an idea I’m really interested in trying. With my other work, I know exactly what it’s going to look like, I’ve worked it all out. It’s no surprise! But it’s easy ‘cos I keep the measurements of hundreds of paintings in my head, so I can just pull one out. Sometimes I’m just changing points. But you can change the dimensions too, you can distort them. You’ve got an infinite amount of possibilities you can play with. For example, you can use grids, triangular grids, or hexagonal grids. But you’ve always got an infinite amount of possibilities.
Leigh Arnold’s lives in Nimbin, Northern NSW and exhibits locally.