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, May 6, 2008

Vibrant chroma and shape

Denys Watkins: Delhi Drawings
Gus Fisher, Auckland
11 April – 24 May 2008

When you enter the Gus Fisher Gallery, the small back room on the right, has been taken over by Denys Watkins for a striking presentation of work he made in February 2003, during a residency in Sanskriti Kendra in New Dehli. The result is a wondrous transformation. Painting the main wall green and an adjacent column blue, he has created a theatrical environment for the acrylic and oxide paintings he made on local handmade paper. This paper has a gridded, weavelike texture.

Of course saturated powdered wall colours inside buildings is a distinctive characteristic of that part of the world, and Watkins has picked images from the nearby village, such as Ganesh the elephant god, and occasionally Hanuman the monkey deity, for a rich array of images that also includes references to cricket, the national obsession. Watkin’s treatment of the images has a Matisselike emphasis on flat unmodulated colour and virtuoso nuance of contour, with hints of Motherwell or early Prieto.

It is a terrific exhibition, gorgeously sensual and easily the best I have ever seen in this room, and in fact, maybe the best in the whole gallery in recent years. It gives you a vivid sense of another culture and location, and how on a popular level the personalities and iconic presence of various deities there are so pervasive. Something completely foreign to the western mindset.

Nowadays Watkins exhibitions are rare. I’ve only seen only one other solo show of his and that was in Wellington (then again I’m a new resident in Auckland). However I vividly remember his contribution to Francis Pound and Andrew Bogle’s ‘New Image’ show at Auckland Art Gallery in 1983. His work was very graphic and linear then, but this show twenty-five years later is mainly about the pleasures of matte colour and shape. An essential exhibition to visit.

(Thank you Andrew Clifford and Jennifer French for the images)

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