There is a palpable energy in Telly Tu’u’s works, a constant movement captured in the title Bobbing and Weaving. Dynamic fields of heavily layered, swirling paint are interspersed with areas of highly refined, hard-edged detail. Tu’u refers to these areas as ‘pauses,’ and they do act as places to rest your eye in the maelstrom of paint. It is easy to get caught up in the movement of the work, but beautifully rendered areas of distinct colours capture your attention and allow you to focus in on the detail and appreciate the technique and materiality of the works, before your gaze is once again dragged away and across the exploded forms.
Through this juxtaposition an interplay between freedom and control is made visible. The background is loose and untethered, as if the artist is caught in the moment, following the paint where it leads. In contrast, the pauses are highly refined, beautifully controlled areas where perfectly matched colours seamlessly transition into each other with no muddiness allowed to occur.
There is an element of chance in the creation of the works, with the starting point dependent on the paint left on the artist’s palette from the previous work. This requires a relinquishing of control, an acceptance of the materials’ precedence. However, deciding where to go next, what new colours to incorporate and where to move the brush, takes intuition and an innate understanding of his materials – what colours will work together and which techniques to employ in building up the layers. This takes time and thought, with the artist working slowly, carefully pondering his next move before putting brush to canvas.
This process allows for each work to be truly unique and special, unable to ever be replicated. The lineage of colour from the palette of one work to the next however means that despite each painting’s singularity, they are intrinsically linked and the exhibition comes together as a coherent whole.
There is an internal logic to the works, and this is because the line between chaos and order, movement and rest, macro and micro is kept perfectly in balance. A misstep in any direction and the works could be either too busy or not interesting enough, both of which would result in a viewer quickly moving on. As it is these are paintings to get lost in, to spend time discovering the many facets that make up each accomplished individual piece.
This makes for works that are the antithesis to the instant gratification of much of today’s contemporary art. In a world when artists are competing to grab your attention with a slick gimmick or quick punch line, Tu’u’s ‘slow burn’ works ask us as viewer to focus our attention, engage, and bring something of ourselves to the conversation.
– Bridget Macleod