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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Very good but

Andrew Barber: Lean
31 October - 21 November 2008

Andrew Barber presents seven landscapes, all oil on canvas, in the big downstairs room at Starkwhite. Positioned opposite walls, the differently sized stretchers are carefully positioned far apart.

As Barber’s landscape paintings go, I much prefer these to his earlier lusher paintings that use a sweeter, much lighter green. The current show is like Gerhard Richter meets Ted Bracey, but beautifully understated. Bits of unpainted canvas at the bottom edges signify an unfinished quality that indicates a lightness of touch, using scumbled dry brush marks. The dark canvases of blurred smudged lines and thin sweeps of paint suggest a rapid movement through open spring fields (down a road or across them), or a vague memory of a distant childhood visit.

Many have a subtle reference to Milan Mrkusich with two top painted corners of a different greyish tone, implying a twisting of the picture-plane. Yet this makes the work too ideationally over-layered. The landscapes are interesting enough without that added complication.

Likeable though these paintings are, Barber’s last non-performance Gambia Castle show, using bizarre meandering titles, was more conceptually adventurous, prodding the reader to impose narrative meanings onto subtly painted, dark canvases. He was pushing the limitations of painting then, creating mental pictures with verbal descriptions and teasing out a new variety of art.

So while these works are very good, Barber is taking an easier, more conservative route. He is capable of taking painting to more exciting places than this. He obviously knows, for the tension between two sorts of practice is expressed in the title 'lean' which also seems to refer to the pressuring corners. The two areas of interest push against each other like two Sumo wrestlers, until one gets thrown to the ground by the other.

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