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, March 27, 2008

Andrew Paul Wood sends us this from Christchurch

Roger Boyce: Tourette’s Hotel
Brooke/Gifford, Christchurch
4 March -29 March, 2008

If Raymond Pettibon, Paul McCarthy, Francesco Clemente, R. Crumb, Hunter S. Thompson and Graham Greene all got together for a peyote and tequila bender in Tijuana on the Day of the Dead, the result might be something similar to "Tourette's Hotel: paintings by Roger Boyce" at the Brooke/Gifford Gallery, Christchurch. What to call it: Grunge Pop? Psycho Povera? It's the misanthropic, apocalyptic stepchild of Greenwich Village hippie art, Late New York, Italian Transavangardia and German neo-expressionism; Baselitz and Grateful Dead poster blended in a cocktail shaker. Hysterical is the new Avant-Garde and no longer the exclusive realm of feminist theory.

The paint is layered up into hard scabs similar to the sculptures of Rohan Wealleans, or weathered and distressed. This combined with the highly-keyed pallete suggests they were painted by an itinerant prodigy Mexican signwriter - Tacoburger Aztec. There is, I suppose, a point where the US West Coast and The Village meet - the rebellion against the titans of New York Abstract Expressionism, and it has a decidedly Californian feel, lighter and more deliberately immediate compared to the perceived profundities of the Pollock drip, harvesting the 'real' everyday experiences of comic book, graffiti and signboard. This brooding hen finally came home to roost in Paul Schimmel's Helter/Skelter exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in El Lay in 1992, and was also apparent in the work of New York artists Sean Landers, Keith Haring, Frank Moore and David Wojnarowicz in the '80s.

Indeed, Boyce studied at the University of California, Santa Barbara when the state still largely consisted of suburban sprawl Neanderthals with power mowers and Goldwater bumperstickers. And whereas New Zealand artists had to imagine the New York art scene like the Goncourt brothers recreated eighteenth century court life in the comfort of their own home, Boyce lived it and knew the players. What we get is a tongue-in-cheek articulation of the experience (and frustration) of a highly developed visual intelligence dropped into territorial waters that only superficially resemble home. The paintings are a war memorial to culture clash - and thank God because it's often all too easy to wonder whether in fact Jean-Michel Basquiat, Philip Guston and Joseph Beuys didn't die and instead moved to New Zealand to father a movement of dull-but-earnest x-gen conceptualist bohos in the ferny gullies of Elam and Ilam circa 1992, who all seem to now gravitate to Freeman's Bay and for whom Giovanni Intra is obsessively both Chatterton and Adonias.

As with many of the canvasses of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), Boyce's new works are allegories for painting, and in the postmodern context, the often superficial art world that surrounds it. Praxis has the artist as a sub-Pollock/Picasso demigod (cousin of the vaguely homerotic wrestlers in Pool of Sodom - itself a James Joyce reference - that originally arose early on in Boyce's work before evolving into abstract lozenges in the 1980s), representing 'practice' wrestling the sacred bull of theory, much as the Roman-Persian god Mithras brings new life to the world by sacrificing the celestial bull Taurus. Boyce gently mocks the wannabes and hangers-on in Artsy Twats (a commendable assimilation of Kiwi vernacular) as cartoonishly uniformed army, their heads formed by the letters of the title. The mandala-meets-TexMex restaurant leaflet Balls is fairly self-explanatory, but it helps to remember that randy old goat in impotent decline Picasso was known as El Cojones. Elsewhere the act of making and experiencing art is likened to bodily functions.

Tourette's Syndrome is famous in its extreme form for its spontaneous, uncontrolled outbursts of profanity. In this case it is deliberately adolescent. Much of the charm of these images comes from the frisson of contrast between their generic neo-Helter/Skelter suburban gothic aesthetic, and the cantankerously confessional tone of the textual component. But in that, I suspect Boyce is like the "unreliable narrator" of modernist literature. The blunt, sordid and despairing painter / Joseph Campbell hero (again, how modernist) is a persona to hide behind for one so obviously in full control of his practice. Admittedly some people are still oblivious to irony-masquerading-as-intimism and the joys of potty mouth (particularly in Christchurch where low-bred bodies remain buried) - perhaps explaining the lack of sales in this show. To these cowardly collectors I would appeal in the words of Alexander Pope:

But if in noble Minds some Dregs remain,
Not yet purg'd off, of Spleen and sour Disdain,
Discharge that Rage on more provoking Crimes -

Be victims of Ovid's habit of thought: "Video meliora proboque / Detoria sequor" (Metamorphoses VII, 20. "We scan and approve of the better, we go for the worse").

Boyce's paintings deliberately give every impression of having given in to ramshackle gawkiness, having shed the protective invisibility cloak of irony. He wants you to think he's harmless, pathetic, irrelevant, dead, perhaps even funny - a senile, sullen eunuch masturbating with paint like late Picasso and De Kooning, reliving the kinesthetic brush movements of his hey-day. This is a clever misdirection. What he really wants you to do is to identify with a dysfunctional, paranoid society in decline, the hybrid and anti-aesthetic Edward Gibbon of the empire of painting.

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