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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Painting as Private Performance

Sam Rountree Williams
Newcall Gallery
15 October – 1 November 2008

This is Sam Rountree Williams' first solo exhibition since his graduation last year from Elam, a presentation of five, mostly large, oil paintings on canvas displayed in Newcall, a gallery he and eight others successfully established in Newton.

Sensual and traditionally smeary in their use of oil as a chosen medium, Rountree Williams' work looks similar to the gestural, Bacon–influenced painter, Alistair Nisbet-Smith – but with a touch of Robert Delauney and Howard Hodgkins decorativeness thrown in. However, the artist has entirely different aspirations from these unintended referents, along the lines of creating replicatable performances, instead of espousing uniquely individual expressiveness. All this despite the very evident use of contradictory, finger-painted squiggles and slashing brushmarks – from an artist who claims in his catalogue to be making ‘a performance from which he disappears’.

Though he uses a narrow brush to draw suggestive contours, forms that are never fully described but only fleetingly hinted at, the best work by far of the five (Jersey) has very few floating, sweeping strokes and an uncharacteristically integrated sense of spatial unity. The others look unfinished according to conventional paradigms. The trouble is the artist's invented parameters are not clear.

Using established thinking patterns, Rountree Williams can make superbly painted images (with spatial unity) that generate viewer curiosity. The works in the recent Elam graduate book, this year’s Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Award, and on Tony Green’s website prove that. (See two examples above).

For this show I think he should have picked his work more consistently - in terms of mark types - and explained his working processes clearly himself in an artist’s statement, instead of using the waffly, impenetrable text of Emma Phillipps that is available in the gallery. Maybe next time.

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