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.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The trouble with hoses

Denys Watkins: Outside In
Bath St Gallery, Auckland
14 May - 7 June 2008

Death to everyone is gonna come
And it makes hosing much more fun

Those extraordinarily strange lyrics are part of a well known song from the late nineties by Will Oldham aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, of the Palace Brothers. By an amazing coincidence, they are also extremely applicable to the latest dealer gallery show by Denys Watkins. I say ‘coincidence’ because for all the various artworks (mostly paintings) – all rubbery and tubular in theme - listed on the catalogue, the artist has included as a title only one ‘hosing’ tune, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Hissing of Summer Lawns.’ No Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.

These acrylic paintings, like a lot of Watkins’ works, are drolly amusing. But sufficiently loaded so that one wonders what was going through the artist’s mind? I think he had been looking at Paul McCarthy’s Spaghetti Man sculpture. Was he really thinking about ‘speculation and rebirth’ as John Wales in the gallery hand-out suggests? I doubt it. One thing’s for sure. He wasn’t too preoccupied with botanical dehydration.

One is loathe to speculate (of course), but if compelled to (I am, I am), one might wonder if Watkins is anxious about certain bodily performance skills often linked to infestations of spam. Maybe he can’t get enough? Maybe he gets too much? Look at the Roswell work, a seated skeleton. It pretends to be about aliens but in fact is clearly about shame. The paper bag over the artist’s head confirms that. Continuous sex has made him lose a lot of weight, and the metal tub is for washing away the guilt.

Perhaps such talk is being ludicrously and pathetically sex obsessed. Let’s try another angle. Maybe the artist has a bladder problem. Perhaps he likes to pee higher on the urinal wall than other men. Hell, it is possible he can’t piddle at all, or too much, or is apprehensive of that future possibility.

Ok! Enough! The truth probably is that Watkins hates plants, doesn’t yearn to suffer from priapism and like everybody else, dreads becoming elderly. The work actually seems to refer to certain motifs in comic art (such as Mad’s Alfred E. Neuman), or key personalities in art history - like McCahon (making waterfalls with his hose) and Pollock (Jack the Dripper) dribbling paint onto a canvas laid out on the floor. These look like rebuses waiting to be decoded.

Watkins is no fool. He knows his images are loaded and that his audience loves to talk about what they might mean. Maybe with the rubber tubing entangling itself around the gardener’s body there are profoundly existential (and fetishistic) interpretations I haven’t thought of. Maybe you can? It is worth you hopping out to Parnell and checking these deliciously nutty paintings out for yourself.


Artandmylife said...

Inane comment warning. early 1980s band "Low Profile" track 'elefunk'
"I've got my wash hose, and I can do elefunk" - the rest of the lyrics are probably applicable too

John Hurrell said...

Oh,that's interesting Pauline. I know there is a Winnipeg band of that name, but you're talking about a Kiwi group, aren't you?
Are they (were they?) Auckland based?

I guess more people are interested in garden equipment than I realised. As inspiration for songs.

Artandmylife said...

Yes a Kiwi Band - maybe Auckland? Stuart Pearce from Coconut Rough was in it. the track was actually called "Elefunk in my soup"