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 25, 2008

Vertically sideways

Matthys Gerber
SOFA, Christchurch
September 2 – October 3, 2008

Matthys Gerber is a well known Australian painter currently doing a residency at Ilam. When I last saw some paintings by this artist it was fifteen years ago in an MCA show in Sydney called Wit’s End, about humour in Australian painting. His works were very large, figurative, kitsch in the manner of velvet paintings, and strangely, calculatedly, corny. I found them amusing but gross aesthetically. Hideous but likeable. To a little Kiwi dormouse like myself, they were very Australian in their extroverted brashness.

The current show of large four works at SOFA has a very different sensibility. No homoerotic images of naked brooding black men in candle-lit rooms, or gushing, streaming waterfalls. Instead equally peculiar horizontal images of high key flat colour that look like Lari Pitman gone Buddhist: elongated mandalas disguised as Rorschach tests, but tipped on to their sides.

Admittedly I’m easily amused, but I find these works entertaining. I like the way they tease out the notion of symmetry and balance, trying to look at ease whilst suggesting they could have once been vertical columns instead of horizontal bars.

There is a cheekiness that puts all the fine detail and open space at one end and the simpler, more solid forms at the other. And making a vertical mid-axis horizontal. A clowning where most of the conventions of elegance are broken for a laugh – but still resolved so things look enticing anyway.

Apparently some of the decorative elements in these paintings refer to Theo Schoon. Such art historical footnotes don't necessarily make Gerber's images any better or more interesting - just more complicated conceptually, and possibly semantically overloaded. These references don't seem essential to the whole statement Gerber is making, only casual afterthoughts or idle distractions. They are not details pivotal in significance.

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