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, June 23, 2008

Eating out

Rohan Wealleans: Mains
Ivan Anthony
18 June -12 July 2008

Rohan Wealleans is having a pretty successful year. He is currently finishing his Titirangi residency and is about to open ‘A Moveable Feast’ at Lopdell House. He then goes to New York City for a Wallace fellowship in a studio. In the meantime he has this show at Ivan Anthony’s.

There are four sorts of work here, apart from a film screening in one room that seems to be exploring the myth and ritual of James Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough’, and made on a Dunedin beach.

There are the large canvas ‘Tantric’ paintings, featuring naked (faceless) goddess figures, sitting like Buddhas while receiving oral sex, that are made using a palette reminiscent of Philip Trusttum. There are ‘blowfish’ sculptures that appear to be fitted with shark jaws and seem to be a reference to vagina dentata and male fears of castration. There are also deck chairs on wire legs that support ‘sittable’ paintings, and most successful of all, there are comic covers with sprouting planets or warty carbuncles that seem to be exploding through the paper.

With Wealleans the more sculptural and abstract the better – in my view. I’m not keen on his figurative images or his loose canvas paintings, because his bad drawing, use of Hanlyesque silhouettes and contrived tribal narratives upset me. In contrast I much prefer his earlier but more ambiguous layers of peeled back paint placed over doors or drawers, and his later hanging testicular forms.

He is a clever manipulator of cut out ‘gems’ of thick stratified paint though, expert at making negative-diamond pock marks and gluing down the removed pieces so they look like they’ve just burst through the painted skin like an outbreak of bejewelled measles. Wealleans has invented an unusual visual sculptural language with the substance of paint where his skill with a blade plays a vital role in his distinctive ‘brand.’

The works he exhibited as part of last year’s Telecom Prospect showed what a sophisticated artist he can be. This show of ‘Mains’ is a bit formulaic, as if he has used a template for the composition of the paintings, but as a rule Wealleans never sits still. He probably over does the laddish infatuation with pudenda but such images help offset the Puritanism that was once a major component of this country’s art. It will be interesting to see how time in the Big Apple impacts on his images and methodology.

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