What is The Painter’s Lot? exists as the implied question in the title of Reuben Paterson’s new exhibition.
The answer is emphatic. It is this. It is restless search.
Paterson surged to national prominence, awards and international residencies on the back of substantial critical acclaim and considerable curatorial attention in a relatively short space of time. This occurred for innumerable reasons but of fundamental importance was that from his first exhibition at Te Tuhi (2001) he emerged with a fully developed style, vision (of self) and pioneering use of a new painterly media. Glitter. He directly sourced loaded patterns from fabric and his Maori heritage, exploring notions of modernism and the relevance of pattern design, in which space was flattened and surface was all. Into this mix came the glitter material itself and what it does with light, notions of what we see and how we see, issues of transcendence and spirituality too.
By 2005 he began to explore the optics of black and white, pattern fragmentation, increasing complexity and started using diamond dust. Following 15 months overseas, including a residency in New York he returned to New Zealand, exhibiting (at Gow Langsford 2007) large, gestural “veils of colour” in which glitter lay, sat, fell or ran on black background pools of polyurethane. He explored sculptural uses of space. McNamara writing in the Herald described these works as ranging from experimental to being “much more convincing … which suggest … moments of revelation.” (1)
Reuben Paterson believed he was going somewhere with a forming idea and new ways of making but he wasn’t there – actually anywhere – yet. Something was missing - the works for all their process and gestural successes were in essence incomplete. He knew this but didn’t yet know why.
Through continued experimentation and repeated failure he kept looking. And he discovered the answer back in himself – in figuration, pattern, Maori design, myth and the natural world. He began to overlay, deconstruct, intersect and intervene. He began to directly combine (the somewhat nebulous language of) gestural abstraction – motion captured - with the meanings and cultural specifics of image and pattern. In doing this he has invested his work with astonishing pictorial space and a new visual language.
In The Law of Ambivalence (2008) profound contrast is established through the interplay of pattern and background. The pattern bleeds and dissolves, totters on a precipice, falls like a waterfall. Karapuutoro (2007-8) has a more traditional composition yet the abstract background determines how the pattern is animated and understood in front of atmospheric, recessive space. The Dominant Kiss and Freedom off the Shelf (2008) begin as poems to the natural world, hovering in front of (black and silver) space which has been bent or bled and in which allusion (to industry and process) asserts.
In He Says: Kia Kotahi ki te ao… (2007) Paterson conjures a figure out of the depths of swirls and pools, and brings him to the surface. In this remarkable work the artist makes a new myth live, whereas in Prometheus (2007) he references the Greek demi-god who brought fire from heaven to aid humans in a “spectacular fall of colour streaking down a tall panel to end in a cataclysmic dark abyss.” The fluidity and bounce so integral of “Prometheus” alters to the front barriers and fence posts of What is the Source of Our First Suffering (2007) while offering the metaphoric hope of an alternate passage established by the descending space of the right hand edge.
The Painter’s Lot reveals Paterson to be back at home yet in a completely new place in amongst the things he knows and values. It conclusively identifies an extensive broadening of his technical repertoire and cultural vernacular and that he has combined with real authority elements of abstraction which until now have been viewed in isolation and regarded as being in complete opposition to each other.
(1) T J McNamara, “Master Builder’s Abstracts,” NZ Herald, 27 September, 2007.