Large paintings are by their very nature substantial undertakings and monumental in reach. Where this is matched by achievement then something very special has occurred. The seven works in this exhibition demonstrate this.
Robert Ellis’ Rakaumangamanga 8 Pepuere 1988 uses the plurality of symbolism and his characteristically richly textured, impasto surfaces. He presents a Northland landscape as if a map and as a profile. In front of this, he offers an open hand upon which symbols have been inscribed and flowing to (or from) this hand is the arcing waterfall of life. Narrative threads are built; substantial political, racial and social debates emerge.
Nigel Brown’s All Our Days (2007/08) also has a significant narrative purpose. He presents Captain Cook as a metaphor of New Zealand, by collapsing time and contemporarising event and personalities. Cook directly addresses the viewer as if on a stage, to either side sit James K. Baxter and Cook (again) as a hei tiki (holding a periscope). Images of the seashore, the modern family, urban and rural New Zealand convey humanistic concern, environmental discourse, social and cultural dialogue.
W D Hammond’s Headset 3 & 4 (1989) “begins as doodles on wallpaper, the figures reminiscent of comic strips.” He develops a fractured picture plane in this way, enabling images to be isolated but unity is achieved by a process of association and space activity. The work explores issues of the internal and external world, “the bombardment of image and noise, which are crammed into our lives. However this soon evolves into images of violence and destruction. This could be seen as the unconscious workings of the mind…” (1) and collective images of urban neurosis.
Philip Clairmont occupies an almost unique place in New Zealand art. His expressionistic, domestic, still-life interiors encapsulate a social dynamic and mix the message up – at once a celebration of the mundane, there can be no denying also that notions of threat emerge to destabilise the story being told. An autobiographical quality emerges.
Neil Frazer first achieved national acclaim as an abstract artist but since 2006 the figurative impulse which underlay all his earlier work fully emerged. Whilst still using abstract painting techniques, he now uses illusory perspective and variegated paint application to achieve space and volume. The result is astonishing – it is as if he has chiselled the work out of the landscape itself. The more than aptly entitled Chill Factor (2008) is a superb example of this quality and achievement.
Karl Maughan has made the subject of the landscaped garden his own. In Ormond Road (2010) “we are drawn into the work, impelled to walk towards the painting as though into an actual garden.” (2) He conveys the sense of place by a series of implications, using variegated light, impressionistic marking and a variety of other painting techniques to do this. In this very successful work, Maughan establishes the over-arching presence of a tree reaching into the top third of the work to develop the powerful sensation of being in and under it, as we walk forward to the path.
Occupied Territory (2007) by Garry Currin is a highly suggestive, multi-layered work imbued with possibility and the imminence of event. Something is happening, but what and where? Currin has a critically acclaimed ability to hide and reveal – nothing is fixed or certain, details emerge then fade as other elements develop. The longer you look, the more you can and will see. Deceptively simple and apparently restrained in colour use, this work comes to have astonishing resonances.
1. Nicola Mutch, “The Subject of Object,” Milford Galleries, 22 March 1997, p13.
2. John Daly-Peoples, “Karl Maughan’s Gardens of Delight,” National Business Review, March 2010.