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.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

With raking light

Nick Austin: echoes, echoes, echoes
Gambia Castle, Auckland
2 - 3 February 2008

Nick Austin’s four paintings at Gambia Castle are made on rectangles of translucent rippled plastic sheeting, with a horizontal A4-sized piece of paper glued in the centre of each one. He uses acrylic paint that is matt, stippled on occasion, and tonally precise, and though his images flirt with abstraction, they also ‘echo’ the textures and reflected surfaces of nature and certain human-processed materials.

They reference (in paired combinations where one element is enclosed or framed within the other): mottled rippling water (in light and shade); knotty wood-grain; metal sheeting; stones and pebbles; smeared mud; shammy leather; newspaper print. The supporting plastic the painting is on provides a soft glow. Without sounding glib, it is as if Juan Gris had decided to insert his synthetic cubist textures into the format of Josef Albers’ ‘Homage to a Square’, but on the way got distracted by the evanescent properties of light. You have the textural visual signifiers placed on undulating planes so that the rendered image is mixed into light’s transient properties.

Inevitably these works will get compared with Ralph Hotere’s various corrugated iron series (black or unpainted) but Austin’s project is hugely different in mood. Its ‘framing’ is closer to Howard Hodgkins in its espousal of the daily ordinary, but incredibly restrained of course in its choice of mark and hue.

Austin’s title provides the key: echoes. The ripples or vertical corrugations could be moving first left to right, and then bounce back right to left. However these reverberations are not of sound but of light, light which besides hitting the ripples from the side also bounces off the wall behind the painting and comes out through the work’s thinly painted surface. The viewer considers the interaction of illumination, image and referent together, the blending of nature with culture, the materiality of the paint, and the way the panels are held on the wall.

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