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.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The riff raff invade Te Tuhi

Tony de Lautour: B Sides and Demos
Te Tuhi
Toured by The Physics Room
12 December 2009 – 31 January 2010

This hang of Tony de Lautour’s works-on-paper show (unframed preparatory drawings for his paintings) is considerably different in feel from the version he had early last year at The Physics Room in Christchurch. That was denser and more compact, fitting many in a horizontal slot format - like a community noticeboard in a school corridor.

At Te Tuhi the presentation is not so claustrophobic. The walls are far apart and several rooms are used. Oodles of air. In one gallery only one wall is used.

The first room you enter is L-shaped with seven A4 sized works on paper, canvaspaper and cardboard, using paint, ink and glitter. They are evenly spread apart - each to be considered in isolation. On one nearby wall is just one image, a skull painted on a Workshop bag. The rest of the show has images butted together friezestyle.

The second gallery is round the corner through a door, and with the one wall. Ah but what a wall - for on it in a packed row are forty-five very small drawings / paintings, rendered in surprisingly fine detail on box lids, old envelopes, beer coasters, and canvaspaper. All sorts of portable surface are used to present a mixed assortment of de Lautour’s characteristic grimacing profiles and emblematic animals.

The third room is more immersive, and wittily set up so you stand in the centre of the space and gaze at three walls where the works’ bottom edges of each row are flush. This creates the impression of a nearby city with skyscrapers that surround you. You seem to be positioned in isolation within an unbuilt flat area – like that of Hagley Park in Christchurch.

These three walls vary. The left one with thirteen medium sized images features quick raggedy sketches on torn fashion magazine pages and folio paper, emphasising colour, pattern and abstraction. The middle has seventeen graphic portraits on unusual supports like Chinese newspapers, and the righthand frieze has eleven items on heavier black paper. The overall mood is feral, gritty and fast execution: very casual but unsettling too.

Nothing in this show is slick, which de Lautour paintings, particularly the large ones, can on occasion be. In fact that is the point of this show - its roughness. It has a take it or leave it indifference to prissification.

With the exhibition comes a very fine catalogue put out by The Physics Room containing a well researched essay by Mark Williams that I have already discussed. It looks at de Lautour’s and historical and sociological content.

De Lautour’s images here of course are more than just warm-ups for oil paintings. These cartoonlike mug shots have an independent life of their own, especially when seen in bulk. You don’t need to worry about not seeing the later ‘unscruffy’ versions because the early ones have an energy that perhaps disappears when re-rendered in another medium or scale.

Examining such portraits, most Maori visages included tend to radiate dignity and calm, whereas the more ubiquitous Pakeha countenances reflect their being what Charles Darwin referred to in his 1835 visit to the Bay of islands as ‘the very refuse of society’, later paraphrased as ‘white trash.’ Their faces look uncouth and brutal, and the setting of New Zealand / Aotearoa a harsh and hostile place to live, with not much tenderness or generosity to be found. Images that though often referring to stock mindsets of participants in this country’s history, seem focussed on the grim realities of the turbulent present as well.

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