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, July 9, 2008

Wallpapering the treetops

Kevin Appel
Two Rooms
3 July - 9 August 2008

Kevin Appel is a Los Angeles artist who recently did a residency at Two Rooms, and so this is his first New Zealand show: one of eleven collages and five large paintings.

The paintings are architectural fantasies riffing off the decorative properties of synthetic cubism. Extremely pristine and lovingly crafted, he has emulated the compositional placements of his smaller collaged studies to provide a chromatically controlled assortment of wallpapers, fabrics and faked woodgrains that also read as shambolic houses nestling in the lofty branches of trees.

They are an orchestration of patterned planes, drawn but squashed pyramids and the occasional jutting breast, all trying to pull free of each other, but restrained by taut contour lines that function like guy ropes on a tent in a gale. The smaller paintings are more horizontally and vertically aligned, with plenty of white space at the edges to put pressure on the centre. They tend to be stable whereas the larger works have less discernable structure, with more tumbling movement and looser diagonal tensions rolling out towards the peripheries.

Oddly Appel’s more graphic, linear studies are much more spatial. You are not so conscious of the picture plane. The loosely assembled wallpaper shelters are easier to discern while also being more exuberant with hotter colour and irregular pattern. Their delicate pencil grids are teetering, fragile and exquisitely poised.

Even though the paintings are about tautness, and use tweaked but strident dynamics of interlocking shape to delineate the space, some of the collages using more marker pen and less pencil are wildly spontaneous. They seem to reference Philip Guston’s smoking heads and Archimboldo’s librarian head made of books, and have an abandoned freedom away from anal precision and obsessive craft. Surprisingly such bodily drawings celebrate relinquishing control and letting the hand move with less thinking. They laud the clunky, raw and unprecious.

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