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, April 24, 2008

The falling of water and light

Martin Basher: The Spectacular Fall
Starkwhite, Auckland
21 April - 17 May 2008

Waterfalls have long been a part of New Zealand Aotearoa’s landscape art subject matter, ever since William Hodges laid eyes on this country with Cook, and Hodges was an inspiration to McCahon when he began to paint the first of many waterfalls in the early sixties. Waterfalls of course are also an important symbol for Duchamp, blending his use of ‘fountains’ with the idea of ‘delay’, and apparently stemming from an occasion in 1915 when he got drunk at a party in New York, passed out on a staircase and wet his pants.

Though in his artist statement Basher ties his waterfalls with the American Hudson River School, they are really closer to Christmas card illustrations with their steep mountains and fir tree forests. The best ones have a wonderfully piercing yellow light in the tradition of the Romantic Sublime, most also having angular houses with steep rooves that look like ‘witch cottages’. (Some of these have solar panels.) The houses and skies are better painted than the trees and dew-laden cobwebs, which are comparatively clumsy.

The overall effect is saccharine mixed with the drama of great height - and seemingly without irony. I would (reluctantly) prefer to see Graham Sydney paintings to these, because Sydney is obviously more skilful, plus his emotion is more distanced - with nuance. These are over the top.

Basher’s work is therefore a close cousin to that of Saskia Leek. It’s a form of schmaltz, but compared to her, more spatially ‘realistic’ and spectacular. I dislike the sentimentality in his paintings but I appreciate his skill with light. They are worth seeing for that.

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