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.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sophisticated drawings

Works on Paper: Kevin Appel, Joachim Bandau, Frank Gerritiz, Jane Harris, Noel Ivanoff, Simon Morris, Geena Shin
Two Rooms
30 January - 28 February 2009

This is a tightly selected show that uses the whole gallery, with Frank Gerritiz providing some ‘drawings’ in the traditional sense of leaded graphite on paper, and Geena Shin and Kevin Appell creating collages. Joachim Bandou and Jane Harris explore the limitations of watercolour inside demarcated, repeated shapes that overlap – as does Simon Morris with liquid acrylic – while Noel Ivanoff makes ‘paintings’ in a sticky Judy Millarish way, with viscous coloured substance stamped with a grinding disc onto free-hanging sheets of dacron. Only three of the seven artists here are Kiwis.

In this shrewd, elegant and varied exhibition stock is made fresh in a new context. The works interact beautifully, with many cross connections made via similar colours and use of negative shape.

The most obsessively fastidious works are Gerritz’s carefully positioned squares and rectangles. These meticulous black blocks are stacks of dark rippling lines measured into thirds or sixths of the pages’ surface area. The harshness of the precise edges created by this German artist could lacerate your eyeball if you lingered too long over their razor-sharp, geometric contours. The mottled pencil lines seduce with their subtle horizontal wobbling motion and beguiling depth.

Geena Shin’s angular tangram forms are less optically stable, not being anchored with a sense of weight. Their pointy diamond forms seem to flutter and flip across the page, being like Gerritz ultra crisp, and exploiting negative gaps. Carefully pre-planned, these are made with rigorously positioned, glued on, painted card.

Whilst this is clearly an ‘abstraction’ show that examines nuances of surface, it is not only preoccupied with figure-ground relationships of shape or suggested volumetric form. Simon Morris and Noel Ivanoff deal with these, and the concept of process-driven time as well. Both use wormlike shapes that meander across the page, rising and descending - and stopping when they seem about to double back.

Morris’s inventive stencil-based configurations explore a delicate and flat, thick twisting line that snares unexpected but repeated white shapes within its airy looping course. Ivanoff’s line though is much fatter and denser. Because it is created from a printed disc application of slimy coloured pigment it looks telescopic and modelled, like a ventilation tube. It is squeezed into a compressed structure where negative forms cannot be a consideration.

These works have a nice looseness as well: Ivanoff where the squashed paint has oozed out and thickened beyond the confines of the overlapping, pressing circle, and Morris with the occasional flick of dripped paint. British artist Jane Harris capitalises further on such accidents, mixing her watercolour pigments in subtle chromatic combinations and placing them in rows of overlapping elongated ovals so that the drying hues start to separate and form dark surging waves peeking through paler fields.

There is another German artist in this show besides Gerritz, mentioned earlier. Joachim Bandau exploits the properties of diluted black pigment and only that, his overlapping rectangular washes looking like aerial views of stacked up sheets of tinted glass. Each faint rectangle has a thin undulating edge, a tiny line of linear black residue, and the ones in the centre, being positioned over many more layers, are darker and deeper in dramatic depth.

Upstairs the collages by American artist Kevin Appel show us his interest in synthetic cubism and architectural forms. On one wall his pencil drawings of patterned sheltering planes, airily aligned within the branches of trees, amuse with their whimsical inventiveness. On the other, appropriated photographs of landscapes have tent or hut forms inserted, with similarly decorative planes. This floor is in marked contrast to the austerity and lack of ornamentation on the ground floor below. Unlike the other artists, Appel’s work has a celebratory exuberance, a joyfulness in decoration, possibly even prettiness – without getting wild. It is still intrinsically cool.

Summing up, overall the works in this show are strictly controlled - with nothing really too abandoned or remotely frenetic. Yet though there is an emphasis on craft and technique, it somehow sustains interest without drifting into dry exercises or showing off. The visual properties, often fluid in the physicality of the medium, greatly intrigue. In their clever combinations of sensibility, they compel further looking.

[In descending order, the illustrated works above are by Frank Gerritz, Geena Shin, Simon Morris, Noel Ivanoff, Jane Harris, Joachim Bandau and Kevin Appel.]

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