Four Faces? - Lissa Mitchell
City Gallery is rolling in New Zealand art; currently there is a package deal of four shows marketed as four faces of New Zealand Art. The faces are Rita Angus, Gavin Hipkins, Peter Peryer and Michael Illingworth. To save confusion, on the logo, each panel that features a face is numbered in naff millennial style 01, 02, 03, 04. Despite the demands of marketing, why the implication that the four faces are self-portraits? What is meant by face(s) here? Especially when making singular iconic claims on the work of the four artists seems to go against what the exhibitions are doing. Two of these shows Angus and Illingworth are curated projects that broaden how these artists have been categorised by NZ art history, especially in terms of portraiture.
Live to paint and paint to live broadens Angus work by setting it amongst that of her contemporaries. It is four shows under the one title. Angus by Angus: 23 Self-Portraits, curated by Vita Cochran, looks at Angus approach to portraiture in terms of her inner life expressed as outward form. Yes, Angus portraits play with the multiplicity of identity, but surely she didnt do them just because being a professional artist was an unconventional career choice for her time. I wanted more sex maybe? Rita Angus & Leo Bensemann: The Cambridge Terrace Years, curated by Peter Simpson, is a feast of portraiture as the thread that drew the artists together; into friendships, shared ideas, techniques and a new spirit in New Zealand painting. Simpson has made a robust and intimately connected selection. While Linda Tylers Rita Angus & Marjorie Marshall in Central Otago, places Angus and Marshall together both physically and stylistically doing fieldwork for iconic paintings of the South Island landscape. In this context Angus is much less the lone Angel in the House than usual.
Gavin Hipkins The Homely, explores the facelessness of culture, and (as Hipkins would have it) sexuality, expressed as material objects and natural form. Hipkinss work treats individuality, represented as physical human form, as an idea of the past. Rather culture is a gesture that invokes human form culture is big brother. A bullet hole through a venetian blind, book collections, weathered business signage, amateur models and paintings, and unoccupied pleasure craft boats and caravans. While Angus individuals stare out of bodies with sharpened edges, the gaze of Hipkins audience is inward.
Michael Illingworth is not usually celebrated for his artistic periods, but A Tourist in Paradise Lost: The Art Of Michael Illingworth is as interesting for its diversity as for the portrait it assembles of the artist. Illingworth had a knack for exploiting his apparent outsider status. But while it identified him, it also provided a framework for exclusion. In their catalogue essay, Aaron Lister and Damian Skinner point out that Illingworths style of painting was used as an argument against his inclusion in nationalistic discourses. Rather Illingworths work was seen to use landscape merely as a backdrop to social drama. Might Illingworths outspokenness have contributed to this reading of his work? At times Illingworths work was a facade for frustration and this appears most openly in an untitled series of works that comment dryly on the tastes and culture of the art world. Illingworth played the artist-must-eat game but I think he played another too that of the frustrated artist. What rewards for a fledging art scene prepared to assist in relieving some of the artists frustration? Evidenced throughout the 1960s when Illingworth, through his association with Barry Lett Galleries, was at the top of the game.
All of the shows use portraiture as a genre in some form, only the Four Faces motif is an overstated simplification. But there are pearls sitting below City Gallerys packaging. Rita Angus by any other name? Well you could try Rita Cook and Rita MacKenzie for a start.
If there be thorns - BS Thompson
A local painter has taken severe umbrage to my brief analysis of the Wellington scene (Boy/Girl issue). Unkind words concerning myself were overheard at a recent opening. Though this publication allows and apparently enjoys printing the sort of words said on this occasion, I myself am against it. Equally inflammatory remarks were conveyed to the Enjoy staff earlier in the year by the same painter. An unnecessarily excited Enjoy were subsequently disappointed and sportingly took any alleged derogatory comments on the chin. Meanwhile at the opening, anonymity remained intact, but for how much longer?
Whats happened to Showcase, pet project of Andrew Thomas, budding auteur of the camera and Hamish McKays Mini Me-like assistant? After a few false starts and BYO openings, Thomas has attracted some star exhibitors. Though Douglas Rex Kelaher seemed to promise the usual direction of an artist-run-space, the follow up of Rob Cherry, John Nixon and Billy Apple appeared to put a stop to all that. So has it gone from the last great hope of Wellingtons avant garde to plaything of the beautiful people? Will anyone care either way? It is one panel among many and if it has had any impact its been to attract attention to the contents of its neighbours. Ancient, quirky advertising and the artistic efforts of the mad and unfashionable crowd out Showcase.
Some extracurricular work for Enjoy was a project with their old school chum Dan Arps in town briefly for his Pharmacy installation. Empty Kodak shop premises in the Hewlett Packard building on Willis Street provided some glossy eighties power dressing to the occasion. Enjoy are learning that nepotism isnt a dirty word in this business. Calling on old contacts such as Arps promises more glamour than an earnest mission to celebrate local talent. Arps Pharmacy, like his Enjoy show a year ago, spoke Artist-run-space to me, I knew where I was, everything seemed... proper. Then the week after, Amanda Newall, of Auckland, exhibited Black Lunch. Perhaps the most delightful thing seen at Enjoy thus far, hopefully Newalls video gets an airing elsewhere.
The same week in September opening at Hamish Mckay there was a whole lot of Mikala Dwyer and a bit of Ronnie van Hout. Yes, Van Hout is back and looking like he never went anywhere. Dwyer flew in from Sydney with a great many odds and ends. After Dwyer had copped a champagne cork on the forehead early in the year, drinks were manned throughout the night by Andrew Thomas.
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