Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Down the gurgler?

Sara Hughes: Scales of Economy
Gow Langsford
1 - 25 July 2008

In this show Sara Hughes mixes op-art abstraction with digits showing fiscal worth. Financial figures become the repeatable unit she stretches and distorts like the ‘skins’ of Riley or Vasarely, rendering them in buoyant lolly-pop colours.

Exuberant though her palette may be, Hughes’ use of numbers is intended to refer to the American economic crisis as it occurred while she was living there last year. On another level these square canvases also seem to allude to her own anxieties about the market for her paintings. Some images seem to be of spirals like the striations that line the barrel of a gun. Others are tunnel-like, with receding formations of concentric circles, tucked inside each other with diminishing number size. Others still are like looking down the plughole of a sink, with swirling numbers rendered in foreshortened perspective. Almost all digits seem to moving away from the viewer, not advancing towards them.

Some vertical rectangular paintings, which refer to stock exchanges, use horizontal compositional formats, not circular. Their images are like strips of ticker tape recording triplets of zeros, spaced apart through commas as if part of a continually growing, massive possibly infinite number - with a beginning which has been long lost.

A third type of canvas is a horizontal rectangle with records of bids at an auction, coloured discs like price tags hanging in clusters showing decreasing sale prices. Other paintings avoid canvas and numbers altogether. They consist of price labels dipped in paint (red for a sale), held in circular configurations by magnets fixed to the wall. One looks like a torpedo being fired out of a tube towards the viewer – reflecting perhaps Pat Hanly’s famous muttered remark about speculating, profit-hungry buyers, that he hoped the paintings would fall on their heads and kill them. The price tags are also a pun on the 'scales' of the show's title.

This is an interesting theme for Hughes to explore, with her colour choices determined to some extent by popular selling conventions. Her work here is hampered though by such colour choices, which with a white background make the painting ingratiatingly decorative. She seems not an explorer of closely related chromatic or tonal properties, but more interested in shape than hue. If Hughes continues with the fiscal theme as a serious matter for investigation, she may find painting too restrictive. It should be fun to watch where it leads her.

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