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, May 27, 2009

Wild cards

Neil Dawson - Deck: First Cut
Jonathan Smart, Christchurch
May 12 – June 7 2009

In Jonathan Smart’s front gallery Dawson presents two sets of six card replicas: greatly enlarged playing cards of screen printed powder coated paint on stainless steel. Just under knee height they are curved so they can stand upright on the floor. Or, using holes in the corners, they can also be hung on walls. The patterns and designs on both sides are meticulously reproduced from the smaller originals

Actually they are a lot more than just highly ornate, enlarged playing card facsimiles. They have been very cleverly cut so that – in one case - there are three concentric rectangles (plus a circle) bent in alternating concave or convex alignments. For six types of card Dawson has invented six permutations of cut-out and bent formation.

Some are sliced rectangles (frames inside frames); others are circles or diamonds inside rectangles; others still are sets of lines radiating from points. Usually they play with the elaborately intricate ornamentation on the card’s back, delineating some of the dominant motif contours.

With these inventive works, Dawson takes something terribly commonplace and makes it extraordinarily interesting. All of a sudden you want to examine playing cards and their Arts and Crafts designs. You start to wonder about their history.

As an installation Deck: First Cut works well. A room full of these works on only the walls would look tediously regular - for as relief sculpture you don’t want to see too many in succession. However on the floor as part of a ‘pack’, a large number (i.e. over three) seem more unpredictable. Looking down on the curved planar edges helps enormously. It is also interesting looking through the holes at what the curved stainless steel reveals of its own form.

Placed this way with one on the wall and eleven on the floor, they look better than they would suspended in mid air on invisible wires, a possibility which Dawson might have considered. They seem like a herd of animals, originally two by two as in Noah’s Ark but now intermingling. An excellent sculpture show.

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