A Samoan artist to watch: Lalovai Aisake Peseta
When I get rich and have a nice house with big empty walls, the first thing on my agenda will be to begin collecting art. Not just any art, though. I want to find work that reflects my culture and personality in unique and interesting ways… art that is a lot more refined and skilled than my own acrylic dabblings (I’ll save my paintings for the inside of my walk-in closet…maybe behind the clothes racks).
Since I’ve decided it’s not long now before I’m that kinda rich (positive mental attitude, guys!), in the last month or so I’ve been actively seeking out artists whose work I might be interested in collecting. I had no idea where to look at first, but thanks to Facebook and some creative search terms in Google, I stumbled upon some pretty amazing work by Pacific based artists. After a little more digging, I found my personal art jackpot – Samoans who paint.
One particular painter first caught my attention with his Ukulele piece (image above) because it just makes me smile, and then my intrigue with his much darker, bordering-on-disturbing Siitaga series. What I’ve seen of Lalovai Aisake Pesta‘s work so far is intelligent, deeply pensive and provocative – everything an introverted Hamo Geek could want decorating the walls of her
bat cave mansion.
I’m excited that Lalovai’s public profile is growing cause it means lots of other people have good taste in art, too (yay!)… and I’m especially grateful that he took time out to answer some of my faikakala questions about his life and work. And he brought pictures, too!:
You’re getting a lot of press these days, Mr. Peseta. Congratulations! How did you get started in this field? What do you think was your ‘big break’ – the one event or experience that really opened doors for you in the art world?
Thank you! I’ve been doing a lot of interviews because I just opened my first solo exhibition called Olaga at The Vanya Taule’alo Gallery. Also a few weeks ago I found out I was chosen as one of five emerging artists in the Next Generation Pacific Artists Program run by The Pacific Islands Society.
Anyway to answer your question, I always loved doing art but life kind of got in the way as usual. I only got back into my art in a serious way about a year ago. I was part of the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts in the Solomon Islands in July 2012 and it really woke me up to what I want to do with my life. I paint, carve, tattoo, do elei printing etc but at the Festival I exhibited paintings and was a carver for the American Samoa delegation. Just being around hundreds of artists from all over the Pacific was really inspiring.
And while I was there I met the love of my life who was also working at the Festival. So when I went to Honiara, I found love and I found my art again, and I’ve been on fire ever since! Now my motto is “Art is my life, and life is my art”.
I really love your ‘Ukulele’ piece – I’m a fan of cubism – but your style seems to have changed a lot since then. Why did you move away from the more abstract images? Was that a conscious decision?
Thanks for saying that about Ukulele. I paint in different styles but it’s funny that you mention cubism because in the last month I’ve really been experimenting with mixing Samoan themes with cubism. I’ve never seen traditional Samoan themes painted in the style of cubism so I’m really enjoying playing around with this idea. I have a piece in my Olaga exhibition called Talavalu & Nifooti, and I’m working on a matai themed one at the moment and also a Blue No More (main piece of Olaga) in cubism. I like cubism because it can make you look at familiar things in a whole new way.
Your Siitaga series is pretty powerful. Could you please explain some of the themes portrayed?
Siitiaga is a biblical reference and means to move upwards or ascend. This examines death and moving on – and when we leave this world we leave all earthly material things behind, even the cultural symbols in our very skin. I wanted to paint about this because we are Christian people and believe in Judgment Day but I’ve never seen art about it.
Especially painting the idea of leaving everything behind, even our clothes and the tatau falling away or slipping off as we go upwards at the end of our lives. This has made some people upset who say that I’m disrespecting our culture but you can see it as symbolic, or as real because when we die we lose our bodies anyway. If it makes people upset or not, I don’t mind. I’m just happy that my art can make people think about things like life, death and culture.
Siitiaga V was the first time I painted the male tatau from the front because I’ve never seen it done before, and in Siitiaga IV (part of the Olaga exhibition) is the first one I’ve done without colour, just black and white, to really show the serious side of painting about life and death, or sin and purity.
Do you collect other artist’s work? If yes, which artists and why? If not – then who’s art WOULD you collect if you could?
I really love looking at the work of other artists but unfortunately I’m not in the position to collect art, maybe one day. But it’s awesome when we swap art with each other like if I give an artist a tattoo and they give me a carving or something. But when I was studying at the Leulumoega Fou School of Fine Arts and learning Art History, I was just amazed when we learned about the great artists of the Renaissance. Their sculptures and paintings are so lifelike it’s hard to believe a human being can create it. In fact, I loved the Renaissance artists so much that I named my three sons Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael!!! But if I could collect the work of any artist, it would definitely be Michelangelo.
Let’s say your house is burning but thankfully, all your family (and any pets) are safe. What 3 *things* would you run back in to save?
Oh that’s easy… my music, my tattoo machine, and my paints & brushes! That’s all I need…
Final Thoughts: Please tell us all about the project / exhibition you’re working on now – how can we find out more?
Ok so right now my Olaga Exhibition is still on until mid September at The Vanya Taule’alo Gallery in Siusega, so have a look if anyone is around for the Teuila Festival.
The exhibition looks at moments from a life-story, from childhood to end of life, finding a second chance at life, from a Samoan perspective.
And I’m really looking forward to what is coming up with this Next Generation Pacific Artists Program. The Pacific Islands Society started this program because they wanted to share and promote Pacific art internationally, so they chose 5 young artists from around the Pacific (Frances Pesamino – NZ Samoan, Jeffry Feeger – PNG, Yvonne Neth – FSM, Beatrice Camallonga (New Caledonia) and myself from Samoa) to mentor and showcase internationally.
I’m really looking forward to sharing Samoan art outside the Pacific.
Thanks to OneSamoana for this interview and if anyone wants to find out more, they can check out my page on Facebook.
More about the Olaga exhibition at the Vanya Taule’alo Gallery page.