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, February 1, 2008

More is never more

Ghost Guest Host - James Robinson
Lopdell House, Titirangi
14 December 2007 - 10 February 2008

Some artists in this country achieve a profile far beyond what their talent deserves – the result of our small undiscerning population. In my view James Robinson is one of those: an over-rated individual who recently inexplicably won a James Wallace Art Award and a residency in New York. Yet in his current show at Lopdell, though Robinson’s individual works are clichéd and cornball, overall it is a well conceived hang (better than the crowded arrangement of Roy Good works next door), with eight vertical canvas hangings, a group of much smaller paper drawings in the window alcove (see detail above), and some computer animation on a monitor. The spatial organisation is a success, but the artworks themselves are facile.

Why my antagonism to these paintings? Well his work is all body and no brains, equating thoughtless energy and abundant accumulation from frenetic obsessiveness with quality. It is an angst-ridden hybrid of Twombly, Basquiat and (perhaps) Dieter Roth, an unrelenting visual torrent of scribbled, scratched and painted marks, scrawled texts, stitches, slashes, collages, and assemblages that attempts to perpetuate the belief that because the artist is a genius all that he creates is of interest: the denser and more prolific the output the better. The process of psychic outpouring is the thing, a matter of purgative ‘soulful’ elimination that is almost bodily. The result is densely packed work that lacks air. Surfaces are there to be crammed with marks or glued on objects – to the max.

Robinson appeals to people who in the eighties would have purchased Philippa Blair (or Emily Karaka) paintings with their overloaded – but less brainless - cacophony of lines and colour. At least he limits his colour options, mainly I think because he tends to use paint as a means of drawing. He is a Basquiat addict big time – far more than what that other Robinson dauber (and vastly superior artist) - Peter – used to be.

Some artists who work in an overcooked fashion can still imbue their work with a keen sense of design and wit (like Jonathan Meese) but Robinson’s practice lacks that kind of control. But as I’ve said, he activates the Titirangi space nicely. It is a nifty piece of walk-in installation that impresses as long as you don’t get up too close to the surfaces and accidentally look at them.

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