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, August 12, 2008

Religious landscapes

Tony Lane
Anna Bibby
26 July - 16 August 2008

The ten paintings here (two in the ‘shop’ window, eight in the gallery proper) make up a typical Tony Lane exhibition. The faded, mock-fresco, worn patina with delicate layers of thinly applied oil paint; the allusions to altarpieces and the sacramental with the gold and aluminium leaf; the heavy-handed use of religious symbolism that shrewdly fuses Italian art history with McCahon; the skimpily (read ‘sensitively’) drawn line rendering those symbols; the pompous, wide, gilded frames – all the classic Lane trademarks are there.

In earlier years he took more chances – such as making oddly proportioned paintings that were long and very skinny – so his unorthodox compositions provided surprise. Even if they didn’t work you could tell he was trying to take religious painting somewhere new. However then, as now, the parts usually didn’t seem to add up to a resolved whole. You got details of sections (like repeated folds of fabric) that looked intriguing in isolation as a horizontal McCahonesque slice, but which didn’t end up within a cohesive unity with any impact. The dynamic initially gained somehow dissipated so the finished work looked anaemic.

Lane’s main problem is the palaver he creates around the physical objects he has painted on, using wide frames and screens that isolate his image-laden rectangles within cocoons of otherworldliness. They seem like a compensatory mechanism to distract from the ordinariness of his symbolic material. He needs the intrusive framing for a pumped up presentation to overcook the images. It parallels the overkill within the image production itself, the use of more glittering underpainted surfaces than necessary to support the desperate decorativeness of his symbols.

Sometimes, on rare occasions, his images are interesting, even fascinating. This artist is good at making tablecloth folds look like cliff-faces or repeated parts of tree trunks. Natural and cultural forms blend, while flimsy forms end up looking rock-solid and the normally robust become spindly. Lane is in essence a landscape painter. Even domestic interiors use landscape conventions. That is part of his attraction, a vulnerable and tentative dreamlike poetry – mixed with an unlikely (but now obvious) combination of a clunky Giottoesque mass with a weedy, flimsy, Kleelike line.

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