Then and Now, Here and Nowhere – Exhibition Review

By John Fuller

Then and Now, Here and Nowhere – Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University Campus, Kelburn.

3 February – 12 April 2015

Artists: Gavin Hipkins, Peter Trevelyan, Shaun Waugh, Kates Woods and Brent Wong

The Adam Gallery is my favourite place for contemplating art in Wellington. Somehow, it works for me on a number of levels. The Adam flatters average art and makes great art shine. Perhaps that is what a well designed gallery is supposed to do. The current exhibitions (all three) are packed full of great art, so go and take a look, I can’t say much more than that.

This review will focus on “Then and now, Here and Nowhere”. The exhibition only features a few works, and plays on an interesting strategy of locating pieces from different artists and different generations side by side, challenging the viewer to think about what may have changed and what remains constant. Brent Wong’s arresting surrealist pieces from the late 60’s sit surprisingly comfortably with Kate Wood’s very contemporary and rather hypnotic video work, or her 3D photographic studies, which exist slightly awkwardly I feel, somewhere between kitsch and the sublime. Both artists attempt to fool around with the mind of the viewer, spark the imagination, question reality. Both do this successfully and both complement one another, despite the generational rift.

Gavin Hipkins and Shaun Waugh use photography to play similar games. Hipkins large work, “The Model (1999), is a dynamic series of small photographs featuring mathematical multi-faceted objects from the Victoria University Mathematics Department. The work can be reconfigured each time it is installed. It dominates the entire double level wall inside the Adam entry foyer and could arguably be called sculpture. Waugh plays with surrealism, but exploits digital technology to replace paint and brush. Again both these artists sit comfortably beside Wong in spite of time.

Arguably the odd one out in this picture is Peter Trevelyan. His sculptural piece is not typical of other work I have seen before. It plays on the notion of concealment, secret hiding places, in this case a cut out book amongst other books on a table. Of course the concealed compartment contains a small and delicate lattice type structure he is so well known for. For me, and I may be missing something here, this work does not sit well with Wong, but then again that may be the whole idea.

How have times changed? Artists have creative tools in 2015 that Brent Wong would not have even been able to imagine in 1969, yet he was able to create a surreal world with his paint, a world that shares so much with the work of these contemporary artists. It makes one wonder what he could do with an iMac and a digital camera.

Image. The Keeper. Brent Wong. (1969-75), oil on board

The Unbearable Lightness of Art by Simon Mark Smith – Exhibition Review

By John Fuller

Little Chelsea Gallery, UK. – 7 – 29 June 2014

Simon Mark Smith is a UK based artist with an eclectic mix of talents, ranging from digital art, photography and writing through to traditional painting. He is also a singer/songwriter. This particular exhibition sparked my interest, not because of the art itself, which is almost incidental in my view, or the slightly deadpan presentation, but because of the philosophical and far-reaching questions Smith is asking through this art and the innovative methods he has used to set up a dialogue with the viewer .

This artist uses digital photo frames, iPads, paint, photography, QR codes and mixes them all up to create what I would best describe as an artistic quandary, a situation where the questions asked have no clear answers. In fact if anything they possibly lead to more questions.

The Unbearable Lightness of Art opens up a Pandora’s Box of debates around the value of virtual art vs the value of printed art vs the value of traditional media. It questions how and who decides this value and even tackles the issue of the value of the artist’s name.

Thrown into the mix are hybrid works, which utilise digital photo frames with real paint added directly to the screens. There are digital photographs of objects, which are printed, painted on and then re-photographed before being digitally altered and displayed virtually in digital frames. These are displayed next to the same images printed on paper. Again questions around value (both monetary and artistic) are asked. Does a digital image on an iPad have any value? When the same image is printed does its value change? Again more questions than answers.

Smith goes on to explore the longevity of virtual art, or more accurately its lack of longevity. Will it survive over time, or will it be lost? Does it exist at all if it is not printed? Is its lack of permanency a good thing or a bad thing? Finally he uses QR codes to generate dialogue and some virtual images, including one of a self-portrait which was constructed entirely on his iPad using graphics software. This is a highly realistic rendering of the artist generated by his use of software. Is it a self-portrait or a portrait produced by a machine? Again more questions than answers. I have a head ache.

Bonus Simon Mark Smith music track. WARNING don’t watch this if you hate Elvis.

Milking a Dying Cow

 On a Clear Day – Max Gimblett      (Exhibition Review)

By John Fuller

Gimblett image

Four White Leopards, Max Gimblet, 2011, Mixed Media

Page Blackie Gallery, 42 Victoria Street. 5 March – 6 April 2013

As a painter of international note, New York based Max Gimblett has undoubtedly become one of New Zealand’s most successful artists, at least in a commercial sense.

Gimblett, a trained potter, took it upon himself to become a painter over 50 years ago and he has been regularly exhibiting in the US and abroad since the early 1970s. This particular exhibition at the Page Blackie Gallery is titled “On a Clear Day”. It features 14 pieces, predominantly in the quintessential quatrefoil configuration that Gimblett has made his trademark over many years, although the exhibition does include three other conventional (rectangular) works, which are significantly larger than the quatrefoils. As one would expect, all of the paintings are abstract and typically flamboyant, if somewhat haphazard in composition.

As a follower of this artist for several years, albeit from afar, I found this exhibition disappointingly passé. Although beautifully exhibited, particularly in respect to lighting, the overall impression was of generic commercial art with nothing new to offer over previous Gimblett work. To draw an analogy, it’s as though the artist is a scratched Kinks LP and the stylus is stuck on an old favourite of mine called “Repetition”. As the old saying goes, too much of anything is never a good thing. The overriding impression I take away from this exhibition, is of an artist well past his best, an artist going through the motions, but never daring to leave his comfort zone.

For many years Max Gimblett has actively perpetuated a public persona of an artist who works intuitively, a man claiming to paint in a trance, while under the influence of various supernatural entities. He even claims not to be able to remember the act of producing his work. This alone begs the question, how can he sign it if he does not know it is genuine? Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, when critically assessed, what is lacking in this art is any hint of true creativity, a credible thought process, or real substance. The paintings are almost incidental to Gimblett’s story telling and arguably lacking in any conceptual depth. Gimblett may well find himself trapped in a world he has created, unable to escape for the fear of actually having to produce relevant and engaging contemporary works.

A cynic could be tempted to accuse Max Gimblett of milking the cow while he can, because that cow must be on its last legs.

The Kinks “Repetition” is a great song. Hear it here:

PICTURIN – Torino Mural Art Festival

By John Fuller, 15 March 2015

Documentary production 27 minutes

Torino or Turin (as Westerners call it), is a city in North West Italy of approximately 1 million people. It is probably best known as an industrial centre and the home of FIAT, Lancia and various other automotive brands. These industrial origins are reflected in much of the architecture, which is far removed from the more classical Italian cityscapes further south. Turin is a city which reflects the industry to which it owes its reputation.

It is perhaps no surprise then that the city has chosen to establish a mural art festival, murals being such an effective foil for the harsh colourless geometries of factories and apartment blocks. “Picturin” is a half hour production documenting the inaugural Torino Mural Arts Festival. This project was the first full collaboration between mural/street artists and local government, the later providing the canvas in the form of public buildings and spaces. The film follows the artists as they undertake ten large mural projects. They speak candidly about their work, their philosophies, dealings with the community and the authorities, with whom they all have had tempestuous relationships in the past. Most of them have had scrapes with the law and one even had to have his face obscured, presumably to hide his identity. What is interesting here is how many of these people have risen from being criminal graffiti artists, hanging out in alleyways, to become respected practitioners with international reputations for their work. It is also very enlightening to see them collaborating, which appears to be a common characteristic of large scale mural art.

Picturin is fast paced, visually interesting and refreshing in the way it interacts with the artists very much on their own terms i.e. at work and impromptu, almost in an improvised manner. It’s a clever mix of professional film making with a very natural, almost home movie like series of short monologues. The editing plays on this really effectively by leaving the clips open ended, or cutting them mid-point. The artwork itself is filmed as it is being created, quite often from cherry pickers or high vantage points to emphasise its scale.

In terms of my own practice, I found the interaction between the artists fascinating. In some instances they had only met days before, yet they were working to bring ideas and concepts together into cohesive works in very short time frames. In one case two of the artists did not even share the same language, yet they were able to collaborate effectively. Cleverly the organisers also invited local students and budding mural artists to assist, which ensures an element of ownership by the local community. I would certainly recommend Picturin to anyone with an interest in large scale community mural art.