Saturday, May 31, 2008
im/ perfection: young Elam photographers
George Fraser Gallery, Auckland
29 May – 14 June 2008
Though the Gallery site claims this is a show of innovative photography that is not strictly the case. Much of the work by this group of a dozen senior Elam students is drearily conventional – occasionally even approaching touristy calendars. However the peaks are worth traipsing across Albert Park for.
Those highlights include Bella Lett’s black and white image of a peeling gum tree branch to which is tied a horizontal section of fishing line pulled tight. On it are attached dangling fishing hooks. The photo has an incongruous surrealist feel, with impeccable grey tones. The scene is contrived, yet the image’s proportions and peculiar placement of marine objects in the leafy air make it memorable.
Lana Matich contributes a coloured montage depicting a dilapidated old railway carriage. The overlapping rectangles, in a style that David Hockney popularised with his clusters of Polaroids in the early eighties, provide a cubist treatment of twisting planes that competes with the flatness of the modernist, collagist picture-plane.
Laurelle May’s gorgeously coloured and sharp night-time photographs have a delicate stillness reminiscent of the work of Hamilton photographer David Cook. Her precise understanding of light draws you close, especially in her image of a bedroom. Moonlight though a window behind the photographer reveals washes of subtle colour on the bed and surrounding furniture.
In her own treatment of her bedroom Anna Gardner's work is quite different, more a sculptural/conceptual project than a mere documentary image. When moving to a new flat she cut out a rectangle from the wall of her old room and spliced it into the wall of her new bedroom, and then rehung photographs, mirror and other personal bits and pieces exactly as before. That section of cut-out gib is leaning against the Gus Fisher wall below a typed explanation and photograph of an early cut, an intriguing meditation on the nature of presence.
Like Gardner, Alexander Hoyles combines photography with sculpture.Hoyles’ four alternating views of a young man’s head (maybe himself) are mirrored by the four sides of a glass pyramid held in a skeletal wooden tower. Possibly not a gimmick, it suggests something serious about the fleeting nature of visual sensations and the evanescent, mercurial nature of the self-observed self.
Robyn Hoonhout’s lightboxed transparency of an eldery woman in her underwear squatting on the floor is strangely disturbing while also beautiful. Admirable in its refutation of conventional ageist glamour it exploits a golden glowing light on the model’s skin. Because the advertising format is subverted by Hoonhout's content which contradicts the norms for such presentation, this is a daring image that needs to be shown in a more public location.
Kirsty MacDonald’s images are also particularly adventurous, being out of focus, indecipherable and much nuanced in colour – for at first glance they seem to be black and white. They are uncompromisingly enigmatic; wonderfully contemplative objects ruminating about the technology of the camera. Looking at what is detectable in hue and what is not, they challenge the viewer to speculate about their origins, as well as beguile and seduce. Like Hoonhout and Gardner especially, by-products of an exploratory process.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Sue Crockford Gallery
Angels of Revenge
27 May - 21 June 2008
German artist, Christian Jankowski, should be well known to most enthusiasts of video art in this country. Tobias Berger put him in shows at ARTSPACE and SCAPE, and he is currently included in the Forty Years of Video Art from Germany at the St. Paul Street Gallery.
Sue Crockford represents him here. His show at her gallery features three different videos, and three large photographs connected with one of them.
Sometimes Jankowski’s videos can be long and rambling – The Holy Artwork at St Paul Street for example is about sixteen minutes, and Jankowski likes process. He likes to keep the camera running just to see what his participants come up with. Crockford’s show is good because the title work is eleven minutes, Lycan Theorized (a joke about Lacan applied to werewolf movies) is twenty-three, and Playing Frankenstein (where the artist plays chess with a Boris Karloff double) is six. You have those options.
The title work is probably the most appealing to a general audience. It is extremely funny and well edited, but Lycan Theorized is hilarious too. The shortest video is quite dull.
Angels of Revenge is from when the artist attended a horror convention in Chicago and set up his own studio nearby. He then filmed twelve participants in a costume contest on the site, each fantasizing about somebody they really hated, explaining why, and what they would like to do to them. It is all pretty corny, but it works. Funny because the participants are so ordinary, if not moronic. The vicious bastards who originally did them over you end up liking.
Lycan Theorized tells you a lot about prosthetics and gruesome special effects. However its real humour comes from actors working in a production which the artist collaborated with. Jankowski persuaded them to spout out screeds of wordy theory at the key, most gory moments in the film. Some of them struggle to elucidate the chosen texts and run out of breath as they are about to be decapitated, dismembered, or eaten. The incongruous commentaries come from various theoreticians interested in the field of horror, or violence in myth and fairytale, writers such as Barbara Creed, Henry Jenkins, or Marina Warner.
Jankowski’s photographs from Angels of Revenge are impressive. They have a nice scale and acuity and the included handwritten notes the participants wrote out, precises of their nasty, tragic stories, are artworks in their own right. They fit into the visual stereotype of ‘angry writing’, and couldn’t be more intriguing, even if they were (and they are not) carefully constructed by Jankowski himself.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Dan Arps: Fractal Tears
23 May – 5 July 2008
Gambia Castle artist Dan Arps is well known nationally as an exhibiter and a teacher. He is also co-editor of the very informative and energetic online magazine Natural Selection.
What he presents at Michael Lett’s gallery is not really a cohesive installation like Gestapo Pussy Ranch which he showed in The Physics Room last year. Instead it is more an assorted collection of assembled sculptures and collages that revel in a kind of nihilistic surrealism, with an extra fixation on the materiality of language.
Arps works inside that wilfully shambolic zone where untouched found rubbish and carefully manufactured detritus come close to being interchangeable. Many untampered-with, sculptural ready-mades are included. Usually he is not interested in devising an articulate meaning, only the placing of certain items or substances together – as if he had typed out the catalogue of works (all called ‘untitled’) and listed their contributing materials and objects long before he began work on the actual exhibits. There is a strange fetishization of common names where linguistic content dominates over the experiential. While the show does delight in the ‘actual’ and in ‘presence’, we also see language putting material substance in a headlock and bringing it to its knees. Words (particularly nouns) rule.
Arps' passion seems to be for incongruous sculptural items that have been crudely thrown together or maliciously damaged in some way, paper collage, and experimenting with printing methods. Arps is a very different collagist from say Seymour, Madden, Driver or Jenkinson. He has a loathing for prissiness, is far wilder in his compositional formats and has a real taste for mayhem. He likes to use posters or art reproductions (in this show, he is particularly fond of those of the Christchurch painter Wilhelmus Ruifrok) and has a penchant for smeared finger painting, paint and blu-tak providing squishy material for random marks that look deranged and which can also be slyly photocopied.
Although some of the flat collages look like traditional Ernst-style surrealism, but inverted, others using inverted or sideways Ruifrok posters (who is influenced by Dali) are not so coherent, being more abstract and about texture combinations. Much of the work, especially the sculptures, is really a sort of optical list, not visually aesthetic and not involving semantic manipulation as in a rebus. The activity of grouping seems to intrigue him, putting clusters of items in close proximity and then joining them in a fashion that is almost reluctant –or if decisive, unthinking.
The recycling of surrealist imagery into a show that is also at times surrealist gives credence to the show’s title. It is preoccupied with process, not finally completed objects. Arps focuses on describable qualities and how they can be organised and contrasted through language, more than pleasing visceral sensation.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Simon Denny: Recent Haircuts
Gambia Castle, Auckland
22 May – 14 June 2008
Having a severe haircut is always a fascinating experience, largely because of the abrupt changes to one’s appearance and the surprise that might generate, the novel temperature changes and tactile sensations one experiences on the highest portion of one’s body, and the discarded by-product - cut hair which always looks disgusting (no matter how clean you are) and which in many cultures is associated with contagious magic and so (to prevent your enemies getting hold of it) is automatically burned or buried.
Simon Denny’s show though is about other things, all connected in some way to the nature of haircutting and its implements. It has four components - photocopied haircut photographs, a freestanding box sculpture, a deep projecting box hung on the wall holding a photograph, and canvas paintings. These link together nicely to make a surprisingly tight exhibition.
By the door on the wall is the deep, glassed over box, with thin sides of painted board. The photograph inside is attached by tape only at its bottom two corners, so it leans forward away from the wall towards the viewer, permanently. This mimics its image of a freshly barbered man, smoking a cigar, seen from the top of his head down, and photographed from a high position.
On one long wall is a line of photocopies from a haircutting manual, encased in a large laminated sheet of plastic, along with several latex gloves. The images, mixed from several haircut types, may obliquely refer to art styles and fashions. The latex gloves imply more than a barber’s concern for hygiene issues or aids. A hint of distance, ‘hands off’ detachment, self-conscious artist aloofness is suggested too.
On the floor is an unusual, freestanding, cardboard box sculpture. It alludes to a haircut’s fringe (or maybe a mullet tail) with small tabs hanging down over the top edge and contained by a protective sheet of clean newsprint.
On the other large wall are a couple of paintings and three more haircut shots. One painting is enclosed in a third box. The canvases, containing marks where paint is spread with a comb or vibrating clipper, are ‘framed’ with carefully folded photocopies that like the wooden frames around the three adjacent haircut photos, decoratively repeat the parallel lines of a comb or clipper head.
This is a very shrewd, but also very funny, exhibition. Funny mainly because of the box on the wall, but also because the paintings, being about process, are compositionally lop-sided, as is his placement of bits of masking tape holding the laminated sheet to the main wall.
Denny’s dominant themes, of haircut documentation and also the sculptural form of boxes, are beautifully organised and integrated. Recent Haircuts is his most accessible Auckland exhibition so far because his wit is obvious and not laden with the obscure footnotes of design history found in his earlier shows. It has an engaging clarity.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
John Reynolds: Works End
26 May - 21 June 2008
John Reynolds is well known as an artist who is represented by Sue Crockford . However in this show he is presenting an experimental work in the much larger Starkwhite space. Because it is freestanding you could call it a sculpture, but in essence it is more a painting. The front side is more attractive than the back. It is a prefabricated painting about the painting market.
This is because the work consists of the sort of road signs you find on motorways, these being made by a professional road signage company, and its subject-matter is the high prices reached at auction from 1988 to 2007.
The work is a list of paintings titles, listed from 1 to 10, but shuffled in position so they fit on the large metal supporting frame properly. McCahon has more works than anybody else, but the other artists are Walters, Hotere, Hodgkins and Chevalier. The information comes from the New Zealand Book of Lists
This is a clever idea for Reynolds to pursue. It is an interesting concept to wittily treat the direction of the market with the road as a simile, and much better than the handmade paintings he has made in recent years which have eschewed his earlier joy in mark-making.
The trouble with Works End is that it needs to be taken further. A distinctive property of these signs is that they are iridescent. Their colour takes on peculiar glowing properties when it reflects and Reynolds should have capitalised on that. It requires a theatrical treatment where the work is presented in darkness and spotlit. More drama would have transformed the visiting experience. There are ways of extending the idea into the ‘real’ world he could have pursued as well. He could have made photographs with the sign Photoshopped onto images of real motorways, for example.
So what does the title allude to? The end of a boom? The end of Reynold’s career? Obviously the former. Everybody is watching the developments at Webbs and Art+Object with great interest. But as Andrew Jensen has stated in the Herald recently, what is public is quite different to what goes on privately.
I wonder what a ‘private’ Works End would list? How would you ever get information about such confidential negotiations? Would it make a good artwork? You betcha! Maybe that is Reynolds’ next project.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
the erratic behaviour of your feedburners - for those that have them. Often, despite my efforts to have a professional presentation here, typos slip under the radar and I simply don't see them. When I eventually notice or someone tells me, the corrected version often ends up being resent out as 'new'. This can be irritating. Sorry about that, but I think it is better to get the mistakes fixed as soon as I'm aware of them.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Group Show featuring ‘Sacred XIV’ (2005) by Damien Hirst.
Gow Langsford, 26 Lorne St. Auckland
26 May - 31 May 2008 (one week only)
They throw a great opening party at Gow Langsford, and last night’s event to launch the new Lorne St space was no exception. But of course (ahem) one should ignore the people (it was packed) and focus on the art and the space, which seems bigger, more rectangular but less interesting (no intersecting side gallery) – and with some thick structural columns that visually intervene. It’s an excellent location just down from the New Gallery.
The million dollar Hirst, of a dagger in a preserved pig’s heart, looks smaller than expected. Quite unprepossessing, but a very clever take on the tattooed symbol for love that’s been betrayed. Using a pig’s body part as a trope for one’s own emotional centre seems a ruefully cynical comment on the self and any agency that accompanies it.
Visual speaking, possibly the sculpture by Tony Cragg and painting by James Cousins are the most successful, both items dealing with twisting layers of stacked strata. The genius of Cragg at exploring new types of plasticity is well known, but Cousins in his painting is now creating strange new tumbling forms very different from the gridded landscapes he is more known for.
Chris Heaphy has a huge black and white painting on the main wall. It’s a real whopper, but far too big for its fragmented visual content, and over reaching its ambition. A bit like Stephen Bambury’s Ideogram painting in ‘Very Peculiar Practice’ a few years ago, where the work’s size could not sustain a finely tuned dynamic. Heaphy’s image is of quoted Richard Killeen silhouettes that look as if they have been composed by A. R. Penck. His ‘skull’ painting in the office (also ‘Killeens’ but positioned by ‘Tony Cragg’) is much more successful in its scale, though skulls now are like hearts, a dreadfully overused symbol. That is why Hirst is a good artist and Heaphy, one could argue, a bad one. With the pig’s heart Hirst has reinvented the symbol from a semantic, not a visual, viewpoint. He is a leader that way, not a follower of conventions.
Of the remaining three artists, Liu Fei’s painting of a carbine toting, shaven-headed female soldier is the most distinctive – it’s an image with personality (& similar to the one above). As for the show’s selection, it is actually more interconnected than what it at first appears, especially with the links between Tony Cragg and the two New Zealand artists. The Hirst is worth seeing because it is clever, not because of its price, so ignore all the media hoopla (Gow Langsford must be so upset!) pop in and have a look.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Digital Heritage: Video Art in Germany from 1963 to the present (Part 1)
St Paul St Gallery, AUT, Auckland
13 May -13 June 2008
We have here twenty-seven hours of moving image on twelve monitors, each small screen showing a selection that is part of a larger chronological sequence. There is no ordering at all in terms of thematic content or size.
This show is sprawling. Overwhelmingly so. Fifty-nine artists with works that vary between two hours and two minutes long, and you can’t click on to specific items using an index or remote control. You get what happens to be on when you walk into the room. So it is chaotic and rambling. You on the other hand, are expected to be curious. If you are that, you need to make several visits. With a big thermos and a knapsack of chocolate every time. Maybe a hip-flask.
Not all of it is from German artists, though the work by non-Germans was made in Germany. Some film is included. And television news too. There is a lot of untranslated German – so it is viewer hostile from a Kiwi viewpoint. And there are no handouts or wall labels to introduce you to the work. Plus with one monitor going without headphones it is noisy enough to intrude on those others with them. Definitely not user-friendly.
Yet, yet, if you – like me – are really curious because, after all, it is art (and you know some video is fantastic), it is possible to figure out a means of access.
Here’s what you can do.
First of all, take a look at this link and the list of works, zero in on half a dozen names that catch your eye, google some info on their contributions to the show, and then when you come to St. Paul St. look for them on the laminated cards by each monitor listing artists, works and time durations.
Then look in the beautifully produced catalogue on the table by the office. It has small essays on each artist and excellent illustrations. That will show you what to look out for.
Because very long works are mixed with very short ones on each DVD, each monitor is highly unpredictable. You can’t sit down and watch each from beginning to end. But if you start off with one that faces across the room you can routinely observe what is showing on several screens in front of you. And because the headphone leads are long you can get out of your chair and move around. You can squiz at several monitors at once, make snap decisions if you are bored and move on to other screens.
All this means that it is hard to devote all your attention to one work at a time. That is easier if you work nearby and can come during lunchtime. Then you can really concentrate.
So using the above procedure, I found an assortment of works (complete or in portions) which I really liked. Some, like Marcel Odenbach’s study of the bourgeois life style, As if memories could deceive me, I only saw the tail end of, but what I did catch, fascinated. Others like Rosemarie Trockel’s Buffalo Billy and Milly, of drawn upon film of actors dressed as animals, I saw starting on the other side of the room, so on quickly realising who made it I sprinted over and grabbed a seat. I managed to see Joseph Beuys’ Filz TV in its entirety and likewise Jan Verbeek’s film of commuters being crammed into a train during Tokyo’s rush hour. I also managed to regularly dip into films by Rebecca Horn (of bizarre bird costumes that extended the human form) and Corinna Schnitt (whose very long zoom shot of a dinky housing village owes a lot to Michael Snow’s Wavelength).
Probably the highlights were Heike Baranowsky’s Passage I (a short silent film of a freighter travelling in the open sea being seemingly repeatedly passed by another ship with the camera) and Harun Farocki’s very long Prison Images, an exploration of the theme of Foucauldian surveillance, comparing the camera with weaponry, and using archival footage and old movies. The more I saw of these the more intrigued I became. Therefore I am considering more visits. (I also really want to see the rest of the Odenbach). I barely scratched the surface.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Richard Killeen: Butterfly Evening
Ivan Anthony, Auckland
14 May - 14 June 2008
These works continue Killeen’s transition from works on paper to large canvases with his computer assisted, densely detailed images that usually reference past projects. There is a jewel-like quality and plenitude of detail that recalls International Gothic. In some ways they are a two dimensional version of Peter Madden’s paper sculptures in that they are almost self-contained universes.
The use of varnish and more substantial size creates a better depth than previously. Very decorative, they are also obliquely abstract in their organisation, playing off different methods of dealing with volumetric space. Some depicted forms contain flat, but extremely complex patterns. Others are rounded and use light to convey plasticity.
The drawing of faces, figures, toys, buildings and wildlife recalls Killeen’s early ‘realist’ pre-cutout paintings, but now combined with mind-boggling detail on every imaginable surface. They are wondrously obsessive in their preoccupation with form–describing ornament. They are almost like Art Brut (especially someone like Adolf Wolfli) in that Killeen seems compulsive and really really driven to keep adding detail.
Their use of fairytale fantasy makes them obviously like nursery art, but as I’ve said before, there is a creepy sci-fi and industrial component too - though I think this aspect is diminishing. Personally, this current Killeen period fascinates me – despite the work’s cuteness. There is so much within each canvas. So much recycling of past motifs too. They are utterly engrossing.
Megan Jenkinson: The Light Horizon
Two Rooms, Auckland
15 May - 28 June 2008
Exhibitions of Megan Jenkinson’s photographs are quite rare so this large survey of unusually sumptuous work is a real occasion. There is a lot to look at here, with work from several projects from 2005 (when she had an Antarctic Artist Residency) onwards – using both floors in Two Rooms.
Jenkinson is well known for her photographs of fastidiously made collages that are often heraldic or symbolic in nature and layered in historic references. Personally I found that work irritatingly anal and a little schoolmarmish. There was often a sort of fact-laden pedantry about it. Its perfect symmetry and finish made you wish she could just loosen up and take some chances. Go wild once in a while.
And indeed in this Two Rooms show, finally, she does.
Not in the series Atmospheric Optics about the aurora though, using flapping fabric. It’s heading in the right direction but ruined by its hammy theatricality. Not in the lenticulor Certain Island series with blended images of landform (imagined by hallucinating explorers) and sea. Too balanced, with its gee-whiz evanescence wearing thin. Nor neither in the Weight of Water series of underwater cities. Too finicky with corny double exposures.
It is in the Ocean World series that Jenkinson finally starts to dance on table tops. Her treatment of swinging chandeliers photoshopped into mutant octopuses or jellyfish has a fabulously dizzying sense of lurching abandonment. Her best work ever in my view. No trace of icy lack of emotion or cerebral detachment here. All feeling, it is all of the body.
Upstairs I startled myself by also liking the Antarctica Palette series - where isolated, very static images are suspended above colour charts, each little rectangle having its own special name (taken from brands of paint I assume). The extravagantly flowery language in these brand names brings the real colour to Jenkinson’s works, more than the actual, elegantly controlled, chroma within her perfectly presented images.
The other knock-out series is Polar Night, where beams from spot lights are raking the nearby Antarctic foreground at night. Theatrical but subtle, these refined works are taken from high vantage points. Moody and dark, their nuances of colour draw you in close.
There is much to ponder in this show, and a greater range in mood than what it at first seems. There’s nothing wildly risky going on, no radically innovative ideas, but if you want to see some absorbing, sensual images that are truly memorable, it is well worth a visit.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
This Much is Certain: Alexandra Savtchenko, Sonya Lacey, and Sarah Rose (Elam Grad Exhibition)
George Fraser Gallery
7 May - 24 May 2008
These three Elam graduates showing together in the George Fraser have come up with a surprisingly tight exhibition – even though it was their supervisors who actually selected them for this project.
So why does it succeed? First of all, and most obviously, Sonya Lacey’s Structure for Standing while Talking (After Pistoletto) – a steel L-shaped sculpture that looks like a freestanding support for a lean-on-able bar in a pub - has ties with Sarah Rose’s Open Space, a large sign holder that looks like part of some monkey bars from a children’s playground.
Both major works function as metal forms (one is stripped of paint, the other is powdercoated) to be enjoyed as sculptures, but they could also work with human bodies swinging or leaning on them. They ‘beckon’ to passers by to be touched or climbed on, and reek of function and bodily interaction, not contemplative delectation. The participation of people with their rigid forms though is not essential. In fact, Rose doesn’t want people to touch her public sculpture, but because it looks like it is designed for children, and not art, her wishes will probably end up being ignored.
Rose has two other works in the show. One is a banner lying on the floor that is strangely folded so that its configured patterns point at the Open Space work outside the door. The other is a length of steel wire rope hanging from the ceiling and wall forming a suspended parabola. Its gravity induced, soft, round form is a vivid contrast to the rectangular hard contours of Open Space, and refreshingly casual.
Sonya Lacey’s Structure for Talking was once painted but she decided to strip that layer off and expose the ground, buffed steel. Her graphite drawings show that interest in surface, and both her preoccupations and Rose’s link well with Savtchenko’s video. Using a laptop Savtchenko presents films of billowing volcanic ash spilling out of erupting craters. She has also made a substraction work (related to the methods of seventies artists like Billy Apple) where she sanded and chipped away encrustations of paint from an internal gallery archway. Her removal process and images of suspended ash particles high in the air are a clever foil to the methodologies of her two colleagues. This is a rigorous, austere exhibition, but clearly a thoughtful one. It shows good teamwork without downplaying the significance of each individual contributor.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Fiona Gillmore: From yellow - black
29 April - 20 May 2008
When you walk into the gallery (from the stairs on the outside of the Newcall building) the object of your attention appears to be a large horizontal wall painted a pale yellow. A pastel, rich creamy yellow that is devoid of the hint of blue that would make it a cold lemon. It's like a custard milkshake or artificial banana flavouring.
You stroll around the austere white walled room a little, and perhaps chat to your friends and the friendly artist who is looking after the gallery. Then it gradually dawns on you that you are looking at a DVD projection. No paint at all is involved. And the chroma is very very slowly changing.
Actually I’m not sure if it is the chroma that is changing, or the degree of saturation. I think that the later is the case. And that in daylight hours the slow bleeding away of strong colour, the loss of intensity of hue over forty minutes, leaves an anaemic mid-tone grey, a sort of dirty white. That is all you will see with the natural light coming in from the windows. The original wall colour underneath the projection.
The work is called From yellow – black. I think that title applies to seeing the work at night. You will certainly see nothing like black in daylight hours.
When the projected banana yellow is at its max, you are struck by the beauty of the wall proportions. The wall is of two partitions butted together, so a little over a quarter of it is left alone, unilluminated, on the left of the wall join. The optical changes are at a seemingly ‘natural’ speed, like the crepuscular onslaught of night which can startle with its rapidity. The work reminds me of James Turrell who uses natural light brought in through a hidden skylight to be seen through a perfect rectangle cut in the gallery wall. Gillmore’s shifts though (created on a computer) are faster, especially when experienced in broad daylight.
If you are patient and contemplative in temperament, fascinated by colour and want to experience art that is extremely subtle, visit the Newcall Gallery. It’ll make you think later about how you perceive commonplace natural phenomena, and you’ll discover an exciting new experimental space near the Khyber Pass / Symonds St corner.
Denys Watkins: Outside In
Bath St Gallery, Auckland
14 May - 7 June 2008
Death to everyone is gonna come
And it makes hosing much more fun
Those extraordinarily strange lyrics are part of a well known song from the late nineties by Will Oldham aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, of the Palace Brothers. By an amazing coincidence, they are also extremely applicable to the latest dealer gallery show by Denys Watkins. I say ‘coincidence’ because for all the various artworks (mostly paintings) – all rubbery and tubular in theme - listed on the catalogue, the artist has included as a title only one ‘hosing’ tune, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Hissing of Summer Lawns.’ No Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.
These acrylic paintings, like a lot of Watkins’ works, are drolly amusing. But sufficiently loaded so that one wonders what was going through the artist’s mind? I think he had been looking at Paul McCarthy’s Spaghetti Man sculpture. Was he really thinking about ‘speculation and rebirth’ as John Wales in the gallery hand-out suggests? I doubt it. One thing’s for sure. He wasn’t too preoccupied with botanical dehydration.
One is loathe to speculate (of course), but if compelled to (I am, I am), one might wonder if Watkins is anxious about certain bodily performance skills often linked to infestations of spam. Maybe he can’t get enough? Maybe he gets too much? Look at the Roswell work, a seated skeleton. It pretends to be about aliens but in fact is clearly about shame. The paper bag over the artist’s head confirms that. Continuous sex has made him lose a lot of weight, and the metal tub is for washing away the guilt.
Perhaps such talk is being ludicrously and pathetically sex obsessed. Let’s try another angle. Maybe the artist has a bladder problem. Perhaps he likes to pee higher on the urinal wall than other men. Hell, it is possible he can’t piddle at all, or too much, or is apprehensive of that future possibility.
Ok! Enough! The truth probably is that Watkins hates plants, doesn’t yearn to suffer from priapism and like everybody else, dreads becoming elderly. The work actually seems to refer to certain motifs in comic art (such as Mad’s Alfred E. Neuman), or key personalities in art history - like McCahon (making waterfalls with his hose) and Pollock (Jack the Dripper) dribbling paint onto a canvas laid out on the floor. These look like rebuses waiting to be decoded.
Watkins is no fool. He knows his images are loaded and that his audience loves to talk about what they might mean. Maybe with the rubber tubing entangling itself around the gardener’s body there are profoundly existential (and fetishistic) interpretations I haven’t thought of. Maybe you can? It is worth you hopping out to Parnell and checking these deliciously nutty paintings out for yourself.