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, September 11, 2008

Spiritual art

Riduan Tomkins: Towards Dancing with Dragons
Kazu Nakagawa: Knowing
Bath St Gallery
10 September – 4 October 2008

These two shows are clearly separated even though they are in the same space. There are no paintings on the walls near Nakagawa’s elegant sculpture, for Tomkins’ works are placed near the entrance and loading bay. This works well for the exhibitions. Though dissimilar, both have a metaphysical air.

Nakagawa’s work is entirely handmade from wood and the occasional piece of string, all the tripods being made of lathed dowelling, all the suspended balls ground with a machine. There are no smooth surfaces, only patterns of striations, which makes them highly seductive. The ring of balls, irregular in its height, avoiding perfect symmetry, is visually appealing but perhaps ultimately dull. It is too pleasing and too formal, without any bite.

Tomkins is well known as an influential teacher of painting at Ilam in Christchurch from the mid eighties to early nineties. He has spent a lot of time in Indonesia and these works differ from his canvases of fifteen years ago in that the cultural references in his images are now more obvious. We see lots of dragons and tiny little men in long flowing robes standing between tall city walls.

The painting is indebted to Richard Diebenkorn’s landscapes but much more graphic, flatter and humorous – even though it seems preoccupied with death. There is lots of sensitively applied underpainting and carefully considered, taut lines. However Tomkins at his very best, is super tight, and these aren’t. They don’t have the air of inevitability that he is capable of achieving with exact positioning. They are comparatively distracted.

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