Reuben Paterson pioneering use of glitter and the stylistic breadth, reach and social content of his work has firmly established him as one of New Zealand’s most significant contemporary artists.
In The Water Between Us Paterson engages directly with environmental issues, revealing that figurative impulse and abstract dialogues can be co-joined. He evidences painterly concerns, conclusively demonstrating that glitter is – in the right hands - as able to control and present space, depth and volume as more traditional mediums do without forgoing any of the unique light reflective, interactive and sculptural qualities it also possesses.
He uses water as a metaphor and as a symbol. He recognises and is attuned to the historical, social and political realities of its use and abuse. In Karangahake Paterson is explicitly acknowledging the physical division of the gorge, its important role as a route and a barrier in Maori society. He is also speaking to and of the alterations and consequences caused by gold mining in the Karangahake Gorge. Although the 1875 gold rush at Waikino was short lived, later on it became the site of the Waihi Gold Mining Company’s huge battery complex from 1896-1952, arguably one of the most industrialised sites ever in New Zealand. But places and towns once prominent no longer exist. Traditions and cultural practices too have been washed away, superseded or corrupted, and marginalised. The gorge separated the Eastern iwi from the Bay of Plenty (which is Paterson’s tribal rohe) from the Hauraki iwi. It divided one from the other and none could enter without first being welcomed, announced and admitted. In Karangahake light shimmers, slashing and dividing the water. Multiple metaphors emerge and narratives develop that attain complexity with knowledge of what have gone before. The Owharoa waterfall is located in the gorge and the area around it was consistently mined from 1875-1941 by various companies. What was once a major food source (Owharoa means food for a journey, lasting a long time) was polluted and altered forever. In both works, Paterson uses an abstract language to capture flux and change and does so in such a way that we recognise how literal it all is.
Paterson goes under water in Fish to Water and Water to Fish. In a virtuoso display of capabilities, he implies the presence of water by replicating and building natural environments which are strongly suggestive of aquariums but equally could be simply contained environments. Although, as in Karangahake and Owharoa, his palette is tightly restricted and limited, now he uses perspective, tone, volume and spatial depth. A wondrous world emerges, life begins.