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.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Inscribing, pretending not to inscribe, or inscribing nothing

Six Man Stand Up Tent (FIN)

(Clockwise, six titles as follows) Mt Pirongia. LA. Way out in the black-blocks possuming with Crumpy. Night Fell. After a few drinks it was decided we should have sex (Song for Billy and Kyle). "Am I hurting you Barry?" I proffered. "Na mate, she's beaut" (Avery's Peak)

View to Lion Rock. G3 (Boy Named Sue)


G1 (The Peria)

Andrew Barber, Six man stand up tent: a tale of redemption. Real men were homos
Gambia Castle, Auckland
28 March - 19 April 2008

When you visit a municipal art museum, do you read the label before you examine an artwork, or do you scrutinize the art object first, and then read the wall text? Or else, do you just ignore the wall labels altogether? Or on the other hand, maybe you prefer to forget the art. Perhaps the labels are all you look at?

What about artworks in general? What if you are reading an illustrated art magazine? Are the titles crucial for you, or do you study the objects first to determine their possible logic - and then ponder their titles?

This group of Andrew Barber paintings at Gambia Castle seems to provide a tongue-in-cheek satire of lengthy Australian art titles of the mid-eighties, like those of Dale Frank or Mike Parr. Preoccupied with male homosexuality and erections, his own titles do not seem to be serious.

If they are not, then neither are the paintings. One contaminates the other. However let’s assume both are dead straight – extremely serious – and about labels and titling, and their relationship to painting and mental imaging. Paintings that are evenly coated monochromes, or else obliterated images hidden under dark painted layers.

There are two sorts of canvas – linen or denim – primed with gesso, that are covered with raw umber (maybe mixed with a pinch of black) of varying density. Sometimes horizon lines and underpainting can be detected, often the paint is applied with circular movements of the brush, and occasionally copious brush hairs are deliberately left in the paint.

Like the artist Robert Ryman, Barber puts in decoys. Ryman is often mistakenly thought of as being obsessed with white paint, but in fact his work is about a lot of things, including huge signatures and clamps holding supports on to a stretcher. Like Ryman, Barber uses humour – but something else drives the work.

Most obviously, Barber is playing with mental pictures within the viewer’s imagination - like say Lawrence Weiner’s bracketed texts, Robert Rauschenberg’s telegrammed ‘Portrait of Iris Clert’, or Michael Craig Martin’s ‘Oak Tree,’ which is a glass of water on a shelf. You match words against painted canvas to try and figure out what the canvas hides, what the words reveal, if Barber is kidding or bluffing - and if that matters. Was any image ever there? Is the entitled activity really happening under painted cover of darkness

Art meets Science

Portrait of Iris Clert

An Oak Tree

It is interesting to compare these mischievous Barber works with Ed Ruscha’s paintings of 1996-7 that he exhibited in the 47th Venice Biennale. These works are sentences with their words blocked out, written over dark fields. Later he moved to landscapes also mixed with overlaid obliterated sentences, and made lithographs. The titles tell you the words you can pop into the individual rectangles, one at a time in sequence.

Be Careful Else We Be Banging On You, You Hear Me?

You Will eat Hot Lead

Noose Around Your Neck

A Columbian Necklace For You

A Columbian Necklace For You

The Barber paintings are Ruscha paintings flipped over as method. He gives you words (as Ruscha does) in the titles, but with no floating rectangles as their painted surrogate, only ‘blank’ dark canvases. Ruscha in 1996 blocked out images and text. Barber here blocks out images without painting on any clues to the titles – except for half a rendered text obscured horizontally in the first painting. He moves towards Foucault’s writings on Magritte in ‘This is not a Pipe,’ but doesn’t articulate a discussion about representation. Only that implied within brush marks, underpainting, painted edges and types of canvas. No written, painted words.

No comments: