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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Symbolic Portraits

Julian Hooper: Átváltozik
Ivan Anthony, Auckland
9 April - 10 May 2008

There are two parts to this Julian Hooper show.

The first re-exhibits in Anthony’s front room some of the Liliu watercolours Hooper displayed in the Gus Fisher last year during the Turbulence Triennial – works that feature a quirky mixing of Hungarian, Fijian and Tongan motifs within various imaginary and factual historical, colonial narratives.

Those works are not very successful, though the strange symbolic portraits he invents are unusual and intriguing. Many look like studies for something that needs more time to get resolved. He has tried mixing together various painting styles and the results simply don’t meld.

The second part of this show is in the two back rooms and a lot better. More Europe focused (though Pacific motifs are still present) it is less technically ambitious but with more compositional and conceptual focus. Hooper has taken the torsos and standing clothed figures and given them geometry, exploring a way of combining Miro-like components so they ‘swing’ like music. He manages to manipulate rhythms of shape, soft brusherly pulses, and arabesque curves, blending them with Picassoesque distortions.

The portraits look great within their dark wooden frames and seem an eclectic synthesis of Diena Georgetti, Joan Miro, Giuseppe Arcimboldo and perhaps Jim Nutt - though the paint is much thinner and the forms more fragmented. These latest works can be simister, especially the image of Vlad the Impaler, with his paranoid eyes peeking through the petals. This series is not as spatially spectacular as Hooper’s last show, but much more intimate. Well worth a visit.

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