Chris Heaphy Exhibitions

Chris Heaphy

This Is the World That We Live In

30 Jul - 24 Aug 2016

Exhibition Works

Phar Lap and the Princess
Phar Lap and the Princess (2016)
From Beginning to End
From Beginning to End (2016)
Rummo Waits
Rummo Waits (2016)
Now and Forever
Now and Forever (2016)
Toutouwai Waits
Toutouwai Waits (2016)
Kotuku Ngutupapa Waits
Kotuku Ngutupapa Waits (2016)
Matuku Waits
Matuku Waits (2016)
Kotuku Waits
Kotuku Waits (2016)
Amazing Day
Amazing Day (2016)
Get it Together
Get it Together (2016)
From Near and Far
From Near and Far (2016)

Exhibition Text

Chris Heaphy’s This is the World that We Live In describes a globalised culture in which time and space is collapsed. His paintings reveal an agglomeration of signs drawn from popular culture, social and natural histories, and symbolic languages from multiple artistic traditions. In a world where millions of images are available at the click of a mouse, Heaphy investigates questions of cultural cross-pollination across time and socio-spatial distances.

Eschewing traditional cultural hierachies, the images on his canvases are connected at one level through the democratising form of the silhouette and their consistent leftwards orientation (are they looking forwards or backwards?). Other connections are more difficult to ascertain immediately. Mickey Mouse, collections of walking sticks, and various animals sit alongside westernised images of geisha, Māori and celestial clouds which would be at home on a Chinese dragon robe.

On one level, Phar Lap and the Princess disrupts the conventional story of New Zealand’s favourite racehorse, pairing him with a female rider from decades earlier. Dressed in a Victorian riding habit and adorned with huia feathers, it is unclear if she is Māori or pākehā, but she is undoubtedly a woman of rank. Heaphy deliberately reconfigures familar artistic tropes of European painting, inserting his own version of Hans Holbein’s anamorphic memento mori into the painting. The particularly English pastoral genre is likewise subverted, and horses, foxes, and hunting dogs in the manner of eighteenth-century painter George Stubbs are there to be discovered in Phar Lap and the Princess and other works in the series.

A bellicose stag dominates Now and Forever and his challenge is mirrored by that of the Māori warrior in the top corner of the painting. Heaphy subtly juxtaposes this however, with Parihaka’s white feathers of peace and a silhouetted ANZAC digger with Death looming over him. The seemingly random assemblages of walking aids and disembodied legs are tied into the myth-histories of the faith healing performed by Tahupōtiki Ratana (1), adding another layer to universal stories of conflict and resolution. Those familiar with Heaphy’s practice will recognise other historical sub-texts of some of his recurring motifs: the clubs and diamonds of playing cards directly reference their use by Tūhoe prophet Rua Kēnana and the Ratana church. It is this re-presentation of symbol and meaning across varied cultural landscapes that Heaphy wants us to explore.

The block colour Heaphy uses for the figures hints at their textuality, suggesting that they perform as glyphs, requiring only translation. The artist does not make this simple however, and provides no Rosetta Stone to aid with the deciphering of his unique pictorial dialect, instead he deliberately fosters ambiguity. Heaphy manipulates perspective, using anamorphic techniques to create distorted forms which can only be ‘read’ from a single point of view. Scale varies with little apparent rhyme or reason and motifs are repeated across the works in the show, further blurring contextual guidelines. The hand of the painter is manifested in sharp-edged, graphic silhouettes and the painterly, fluid backgrounds of the works. Heaphy asks us to consider what is present, how it is rendered, and the reasons for both.
1. Virginia Were, “Exploring a New Constellation”, Art News, Spring 2008, p 74.

Exhibition Views