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: