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.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Scratch 'n Sniff

Summer Show
John Leech, Auckland
12 December 2007 - 2 February 2008

It is always worthwhile having a good nose around in places that deal a lot in secondary sales like John Leech - or the various auction houses that have pre-auction exhibitions to draw in potential bidders. You often discover early work by artists you like that has not been shown in major municipal institutions or the artist’s local dealer gallery. Sometimes you find examples that are unusual, that differ in some way from their accepted style, or are hybrid images between styles.

There are lots of works here I really like: the wild brusherly Mrkusich; the cool, lacquered black-blues of Hotere; the bizarre McWhannell car; the early folk-arty Stevenson.(see above)

But two works in this show I’m really wild about. They utterly intrigue me.

First of all there is this little Terry Stringer. He is an artist I don’t generally admire, for I find his bronze mock-cubist/deco figures and faces a bit stuffy and formuliac. However his image of a hand plucking the head off a small figure really surprised me. It is mesmerising in the intensity of its violence: like something from Goya. It is very funny, witty and terrifying on several levels. The vanity of the body language of the headless figure is very entertaining. It looks like a soccer player about to kick off - to begin a match in a crowded stadium – but the ball under his left foot could also be a head, another one perhaps. And the proportions of the armless figure look very contemporary. With his short legs and long torso the scene looks comical, with the body slightly twisted as if posing for a photograph.

The other work is a McCahon painting of a Northland landscape. To me it is quite suggestive. It seems very sexual and not about landscape at all. The lower half seems to be a woman’s crotch with her pubis and thighs. Above them hovers the head of a penis and a cloud of spurted ejaculate.

Okay I do wonder if my twisted imagination here is playing tricks on me. Maybe I’m just oversexed and need a cold shower. But maybe also an artist like McCahon could create images he didn’t fully understand himself.

On the other hand, maybe he did? We can’t assume he had no sense of humour or mischievous perversity. It is very likely he was interested in the primal, and that he viewed carnal desires as a legitimate layering he could mix with landscape forms and the eroticism of rounded geological formations. I think it was intended. Dirty Colin. How wonderful.

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