The first experience of Chris Heaphy’s The Floating World, the central work in Supreme , is like staring into a kaleidoscope. Rotated and reflected motifs create complex, circular patterns; negative and positive spaces appear and disappear as the eyes focus and re-focus. Upon longer examination however, the work reveals discrepancies in the strict geometry of reflection and repetition.
Most obvious of these are the painterly medallions featuring blossoming branches and a Taranaki/Fuji-like mountain. Other individual details begin to materialise too: a suite of silhouetted profiles are not mirror images at all; they face the same way, following after one another. At first, stylised green tiki seem alike but it soon becomes clear that the composition of each is individualised - one sports a heron, another is topped off with a flagpole, another with a bowler-hatted profile.
These exceptions perform the same role as the deliberate mistakes in a Persian carpet or the imperfect elements that underpin the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic: they remind us that it is the differences that enrich the overall experience of the work. Heaphy’s mandala-like painting initiates a rhythmic, meditative way of seeing but then disrupts this, forcing us to consider how and why this disruption occurs.
This is also evident in the other five works on canvas that are part of Supreme: similar in composition and colour palette, they are meditations on a theme. The longer these works are looked at however, the more dissimilar they seem and the more uncertain our initial reading of each painting becomes. Heaphy uses the optics of advancing and receding colours so that the varied geometric shapes that float on the picture planes react differently in each composition, creating subtle shifts in depth and space on the canvas. There are repeated elements which connect the paintings but they operate differently on each canvas.