9 - 24 April 2010
An exhibition of paintings by Richard Bryant is the final show for Newcall Gallery, the Auckland artist-run-space located in Grafton’s Newcall Tower. After a short run of two years the gallery’s collective of artists is disbanding and moving onto other projects.
Although it is sad to see Newcall and its fantastically spacious gallery go, the temporary character of many of Auckland’s artist-run-spaces is not a necessarily a bad thing. Apart from the enduring presence of rm (the K’Rd incarnation of what was most recently called rm103), Newcall is very much part of a legacy of short-term galleries that emerge to meet the particular needs of new groups of artists. From Teststrip in K’ Rd/Vulcan Lane to Special in the Britomart precinct, longevity is not the focus of these collectives so much as providing a hub for a deft mixture of critical thought and collegiality. Just as Newcall’s cohort of artists is moving on, other groups will undoubtedly see the need to develop new exhibition prospects.
It is fitting that Newcall’s swan song exhibition is by Bryant, a founding member of fellow artist-initiative A Centre For Art (ACFA). Bryant’s show presents a highly considered collection of intriguing paintings and paper works. Small in scale with muted hues these works draw attention to the subtle nuances of painted surfaces. The artist takes an unassuming and restrained approach to the material pleasures of liquid brush marks, paper crinkles, fabric weaves and various inky washes. These are quietly compelling paintings that encourage time spent peering at the edge of a canvas or pondering simple material traces.
This understated cleverness is also extended to Bryant’s use of basic collaging techniques. He creates frames or margins within paintings by overlaying different rectangular surfaces. The artist’s exhibition invite offers a curious coupling of presumably found images: a painting of a surreal grandiose space is laid over a somewhat dubious massage instruction chart.
Lest we forget that they are paintings Bryant’s peripheral borders subtly refer to the medium’s more historically loaded concerns. Are we looking at an image within a frame or an image of a frame? The canvas surface of one painting is so thin that the ghostly form of its stretcher shows through the weave. Although Bryant’s works don’t overtly engage with the conceptual ins and outs of contemporary painting (as painters like Simon Ingram or Andrew Barber might) a whisper of a painting discourse is apparent.
What I find most interesting about Bryant’s works is the way they are hung. Although they offer an investigation of similar materials and surfaces these paintings carefully avoid being serialised. The artist does not simply present a series of experiments in painterly delights but a selection of distinctly individual works. Bryant hangs his paintings in careful groupings that refer much more to the visual language of installation than they do to painting traditions. He considers the space between individual works in the same way that an artist like Kate Newby might pay careful attention to the space between different sculptural forms.
In the collegial spirit of artist-run-spaces it seems appropriate to acknowledge the similar practices of other Newcall/ACFA members such as Patrick Lundberg, Anya Henis, Richard Frater or John Ward-Knox. These artists have an affinity for materials and engage with historically hefty formal concerns in fresh and interesting ways. Their artist-initiatives encourage a coalescence of ideas and critical thought alongside a kind of chummy art school camaraderie. These galleries are not only offering alternative exhibition opportunities to those of dealers or institutions, they are also offering an alternative ethos, a space of thought where artists might share and debate similar artistic concerns. It is an unabashedly earnest endeavour, but one that has fruitfully sustained these new art practices beyond their art school beginnings.