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 22, 2008

Exciting drawing show

Sue Crockford, Auckland
8 April - 28 April 2008

One of the big mysteries of life, more enigmatic than the chemistry of love, more secretive than the movement of magma at the centre of the earth, more puzzling than the selection of the finalists in the Walters Prize, is how to define what drawing is.

Is it a particular support that is the key, something like paper or velum? Maybe it the medium type that is the defining component, an implement like a pen or pencil.

There are other questions too, such as can drawings be reproducible in editions, or are they strictly unique? Are they a method of research that might not be finished, a preparatory process for a later project? Do they have to be about marks on a 2D surface, marks that imply space, and not actually a sculptural item or linear object in itself?

Crockford’s show doesn’t stretch any of these envelopes – it’s conservative in its approach to the discipline – but it is a goodie. There are some great surprises here. Here are my picks:

First of all three very unusual pencil studies by Gordon Walters, with sensitive cross hatching, erased sections, over-inscriptions and smudges, along with small sketches in the margins. Working drawings that came before the preparatory collages that came before the final paintings. Terrific to see.

Then there are a couple of vibrant, wildly abandoned Mrkusich studies, in gouache from 1961, made just before he started to explore Jungian symbolism. The brushstrokes and hot earth colours make these seem of a fiery bush or primal furnace, with no hint of the geometry to come.

There is also a set of seven black ink drawings made by Ralph Hotere and Max Gimblett, seemingly combining Max’s splatter with Ralph’s brush daubs and strokes along the paper edges. With black mounts and 80s framing the resulting images are subtle and sometimes minimal. These images, made in New York in 1980, are more rewarding than what is initially apparent.

Of younger generations, Marie Shannon has two intriguing pastel studies of the space in Esso Gallery in New York, with framed items on the walls, and restrained colour. Peter Robinson also has five very recent hard-leaded pencil drawings of his recent polystyrene/dripping chain sculptures. The understated lines are fine and piercing with descriptive use of contour for the masses, some nuanced spatial inflection, plus a few stencilled links for the chains. After his recent large, loose brush drawings these tight precise works are a wonderful airy surprise.

This is the kind of drawing show I like. No awful portraits or landscapes. Mostly artists honing their ideas, and testing them before a final commitment.

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