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, March 18, 2009

Entangled striated layerings

James Cousins: Signal
Gow Langsford
10 March - 3 April 2009

James Cousins used to paint landscapes looked at through a grid that repeated a regularly sized, horizontal module. Now he uses an overlaid, asymmetrical, striated ‘screen’ that zigzags in circular sweeps with spiky parallel lines. It references Op and Pop - Vasarely’s ribbony, shallow grids spliced into Lichtenstein’s (or Johns’) sprawling brushstrokes.

Peeking through these angular masked curtains are landscapes or close–ups of trees. Sometimes on top or in (the curtains that is) are oily Baconlike smears and flicks; three overlapping spatial fields that interweave and coalesce. Unlike say Andrew Barber’s romantic landscapes, the spiky forms make Cousin’s vistas oddly threatening and crystaline hard – as if mutilated metallic sheeting were suspended in front of the depicted scene. The confusion from blending the foreground and background spaces brings forward the picture plane while also offering slices of a receding ‘window’.

This tension has similarities to some of Escher’s images, where reflections in a puddle compete with the textures of the muddy road around it. With Cousins there is a shattered fragmentation of the painted field which nevertheless remains intact. These very visceral works are also oddly cerebral in their premeditated order, especially the bigger examples. The sharp angles that make them menacing and violent look peculiar when combined with chocolate box scenes that could have come from the Kelliher Art Prize. Cousins is on to something unusual here with this mix of sentimentality with the most brutally industrial of scratch marks. It will be fascinating to see where it takes him.

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