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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Recent Revisionists

Tony de Lautour: Prize-fighter
Ivan Anthony
4 March - 28 March 2009

This is an unusual dealer gallery show in that not all the work is for sale, and some of it is about six or so years old. Yet these ‘Revisionist Paintings’ are a section of de Lautour’s practice that some consider his ‘golden’ period: a time when he bought various amateur landscape paintings from ‘junk’ shops, works made by other, unknown artists, and modified them by superimposing his own imagery. He inserted into the given panoramas his own motifs that he had been developing in the years prior to this idea.

He had a show of them in Hamish McKay’s and I organised an exhibition at Waikato Museum of Art and History Te Whare Taonga o Waikato while I was working there.So a few of those older paintings are combined here with newer ones, plus some recent ceramics. In fact a few of the slab ceramics are rendered on the recent paintings as tombstones.

In the earlier paintings of this type de Lautour often depicted kiwis as pot-bellied, drunken hooligans brawling and smashing bottles in remote scenic areas, where sometimes one could see lakes, mountain ranges or ditches shaped as maps of Aotearoa. The paradox with the vandalism is that it might be argued De Lautour is desecrating these acquired paintings through his additions. And that I am being two faced in even mentioning it – as if I am particularly highly principled. After all, I am praising the work. I think it is remarkable, and that the original ‘un-de-Lautoured’ canvases were probably dreadful in their unmutilated state. I’m arrogant enough (like the artist) to assume that is the case.

How does one interpret the scrapping protagonists in these works: the lions and the kiwis? What do these key motifs mean? The lions could represent the British Imperial forces and the kiwis, resisting Maori tribes. Or they might be referring to something wider, like cultural tensions within our art history. Could they be the traditional British tradition of art practice be warring with a new post-colonial or nationalist sensibility?

Be warned. De Lautour does have a mischievous sense of humour. Things are often rarely what they seem at first glance. Take a look at the recent painting shown above. It looks like grave robbers have been at work. The individual graves of the lion and kiwi are left untouched on either side, but in the centre, out of an empty excavated tomb is sprouting a huge tree. It is white, and ghostly, and happens to look unnervingly like a gum. Is de Lautour depicting the burial of a white-only consciousness (quite a plausible interpretation), or is he saying NZ art is turning into Australian art? (That is alarmingly cynical!) Perhaps it means something else again?

Wander up to Ivan Anthony’s and take a closer look.

No comments: