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.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hide and seek

I close my eyes and count to ten
Selina Foote
A Centre For Art, Achilles House
30 July – 17 August 2007

Selina Foote’s paintings at first take appear to be interested in kitsch or sentimental subject matter, a distant cousin of say the paintings of Robin Neate or Saskia Leek. That impression is mistaken for the work really is about the processes of obscuring and revealing, covering and exposing. The depicted subject matter itself is not that crucial.

Foote’s painterly, not over-finished images are characterised by a soft palette where the chroma has a greyish tinge. Saturation is skilfully muted and kept under control. No intense colouration leaps out at you.

Harriet Wild, in a natty little essay positioned on the wall of the corridor outside the ACFA entrance, talks about Foote’s five small canvases as demonstrating a symbiotic relationship between realism and abstraction. However symbiosis is a partnership between equals and in Foote’s work, realism dominates. The oblique geometrical components seem tangential to something else.

One painting shows a demonstration at a karate tournament where one competitor with a high kick smashes a solid panel held by two men. The bottom sixth of the image is obscured by a semi-opaque triangle blocking out details of the scene. Another of a Christmas tree has two large triangles covering portions of the image on both sides. One other work, a portrait, is partially covered by flat, pale, mauve twigs sprouting all over its lower and peripheral facial features.

Two others, Monster and Santa, use attrition. They feature a sanding off some of the pigment surface, a picking away of selected encrustations of paint, or hiding large areas of the body or face behind dry-brushed, dappled leaves or mottled sandy textures. These ‘subtractive’ works are not abstract but surreal and suggestive. And disturbingly nightmarish. Creepy little paintings that initially seem sweet but which hint at deformity. A bit like very early Francus Bacon they are far superior to the ones with overlaid geometry, and show Foote to be a skilled image maker. Someone to watch.

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