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, May 31, 2009


Peata Larkin: Between Worlds
Two Rooms
May 21 – June 27 2009

With this exhibition Peata Larkin has abandoned the rectangular format that was evident on the works she included in an earlier Two Rooms group show. The new circular or eliptical ‘paintings’, set within square canvases, suffer greatly because of this. In my view her work is going backwards.

The reasons in essence are formal: too many colours to provide a sense of structured meaning; the myriad colours included don’t have nuanced relationships and in fact clash for complementary (optical) reasons; and the beaded globules of paint are usually too small to have impact in relation to the size of the stretcher.

Without any understanding of colour Larkin’s method of pushing paint through the weave of the canvas from behind becomes a shallow gimmick. The method doesn’t develop an aesthetic for the artefact by indicating chromatic control nor does it show a sensitive relationship with the dominant ‘neutral’ colour that happens to be white.

If there are meanings in these works (as claimed in the gallery blurb), then I don’t see them. However as a pakeha male it might reasonably be argued that I lack the appropriate biological, contextual and cultural background to have access to those aspects. If that is true and I am uninformed, then I hope some readers will present a clear counter-position, possibly along the lines that (as the gallery notes say) ‘in Maori tradition the weaver is the storyteller’ and that in these works there are stories of value. It would be good to hear other opinions.


P.Larkin said...

Hi John,

Ouch!….Very harsh review. I did chose to work intuitively with colour, as it is in essence, my memory of the Tarawera/Rotomahana lake and landscape and these are the colours that dominate these memories….Often the White light that reflect off these lakes become the dominant focus but then it changes and you are left with ripples of colours that shift and change dependent on where you are…if I had allowed the colours to optically compliment or run into each other, it would not of allowed the immediate shifts in focus I was opting for.

In terms of the circle…it seemed apt on 2 levels, firstly…I wanted to somehow capture/re-create the visual experiences I often had/have as both child and adult, like glimpsing into a microscope or binoculars….something large and overwhelming being caught for a second or two in micro terms…as well as to provide contrast between the organic feel of the circle and rippled pattern contained within the rigid white square, re-creating that harsh white light that often bounces off the coloured landscape.

Fair point that you do not see any meaning from these works as they are not so overt as previous works, but that was the point…They do not come from being just Maori but rather pull in many sources, such as the feeling I experienced standing in front of Monet’s water lillies and how my thoughts ran between the painting in front of me and the intricate strokes of colour to the actual place itself and his connection to it…(shit, am I sounding too romantic?) to tapestries/weavings that subtly invite the third dimension and play with the light due to the minute threads of colour…

Some of the works have Maori pattern in them such as Tarawera #1, which has a diamond like column running down the middle of it….but some do not as I didn’t see it necessary to include a set pattern in some works.

The value for me in them though are that they pertain to memory and place as does many a weaving/painting whether Maori or non….and that shapes hold both symbolic and literal associations…Maybe it’s my pregnant hormones playing tricks on me and clouding my judgement and my painting or I could just put it down to the fact that “You just can’t please everyone!”

Kind Regards
Peata Larkin

John Hurrell said...

Thanks Peata for your carefully articulated reply. It would be good if Two Rooms can put more of your images on their website so readers know what you are referring to.

I'd be interested to hear what others think.

P.Larkin said...

Yes, I think I want to's not nice getting harsh feedback but good for the soul, as they say what doesn't kill ya, makes you stronger!

John Hurrell said...

Writing reviews is not about being nice. It is about discussing things that often don't get publically expressed but perhaps need to be said. Especially in the artworld where there is so much spin. So little dissension.

My comments are not intended however to be the last word. They aspire to be a catalyst for further debate.

P.Larkin said...

I absolutely agree and I do think that reviews, good and bad are necessary and can be very constructive...FYI: 3 of the images (including detail) that you have displayed are not in the show.

John Hurrell said...

Those are the images your gallery sent me. Perhaps you can organise to have images of the show on the gallery site.

Stacey Morrison said...

Call it bias - I am Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao as well, although I don't know Peata - or perhaps I am not as art-iculate (pun intended), but I just saw this work on Te Karere, and was moved to search for where I can see it in person, with a view to buying.
I'm not qualified to debate your critique, I would merely add that intellectualising has its place but may you remember art is for our souls as well, and Peata's work has touched mine. I believe she has portrayed our turangawaewae, the mamae (pain) of the mass loss of our people in the Tarawera eruption, in a poignant, crisp and contemporary form.

He mihi maioha ki a koe Peata.

John Hurrell said...

Kia ora Stacey.
It's excellent to get your view of things. Personally I don't separate mind and soul, for thinking and feeling are the same -all lodged in the body.
Perhaps Peata (and others) might have further things to say?

Stacey Morrison said...

At the risk of becoming too esoteric, I don't necessarily contradict that mind and soul are one, but they may speak different languages. Which is appropriate in this case and really leads to my respect for your disclaimer - that perhaps there are some cultural values in Peata's work outside your own ken at play. The work spoke to me!