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.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Conveyor belt art

Dale Frank
Gow Langsford
14 October – 7 November 2008

There was a time, I remember, in the mid – to late eighties, when Dale Frank was widely respected as an experimental artist, one who came out of performance to really push the notions of what painting (and also drawing) could be. His projects, with huge sheets of swirling graphite lines, or painted protruding polystyrene blocks on canvas, or lush carpets, stunned with their outrageous imaginative leaps. His work then was thrilling.

His early varnish paintings were incredible too, at first anyway, with their marbled effects and oozing dribbled traceries – but gradually something happened. It was as if he had inhaled so many polyurethane fumes that his mental physiology got seriously affected, resulting in the corroding away of any remnants of common sense. He has been making poured varnish paintings for years now, and not for any explorative purpose. This show, Frank’s umpteenth at Gow Langsford, is packed with work (double what’s needed), cranked out on a production line by rote, with many using the same colour combinations. It seems motivated by cynicism and greed, it looks so excessive.

‘Eye candy’ is one of those derogatory terms applied to non-narrative artworks that cannot sustain interest. Work like Frank’s can be exempt if presented with sophistication - so it transcends the superficial by allowing associations arising from new techniques, materials and formal properties to gradually develop in the viewer’s mind. However when it becomes wall-to-wall those mental processes get thwarted, and potentially ‘deep’ works stay shallow through the killing of their individuality by over-crowding. And older work in the same series gets conceptually damaged too. Its context changes, early excitement turns sour, and what was once dynamic ossifies. Credibility goes down the gurgler.

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