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.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Compelling images

Nick Austin: Paperwork
Gambia Castle
29 May - 27 June 2009

A nose loitering around a greasy shower curtain; a blue pencil abandoned on a wood grained paper plate; a large magnet in the back pocket of a pair of jeans. Such enigmatic images - like the ingredients of a rebus or coded glyph – are the regular elements of Nick Austin’s current exhibition at Gambia Castle. As with his earlier shows.

Austin's six paintings, in the emblematic style of Eion Stevens or Peter Dornauf, or (overseas) perhaps late Magritte, invite the viewer to speculate – as all good art should. Some are surreal, while others are drier and less visceral (as if part of a sentence broken into syntax) yet usually with a humorous aspect somewhere.

Let’s look at some of these peculiar images. Have a squiz at the ones above this text first. The blue painting with the pocketed (smiling?) magnet could be about sexual attraction, assuming that the jeans when worn are tight, and that the artist is referring to buttocks. However it could also be about wallets that often go in such pockets, and the ability some people have to earn money quickly. Nothing is clear cut.

Likewise the one with a cone of yellow spotlight and magnifying glass. Could be about tiny floorplans and worrying over architectural detail, or perhaps the works of Malevich and the Russian Suprematists, or maybe the black blocks within crossword puzzles? The magnifying glass points to us, the viewers, thinking about Austin’s paintings. It could be a joke about art historians too.

The newspaper painted on a sheet of corrugated plastic is another beauty. The ruled horizontal pencil lines dictate the delicate form of vertical newsprint columns and where the rectangular photos should go, diagonal lines of rain. It’s a wonderful abstract image, one that perhaps suggests we care about the weather more than the daily news.

The title is mischievous. Only one work is on paper: newspaper with paint applied both side to stiffen it. The rest are on glass, plastic, denin, softboard, and waxed paper plate. The best of all these, a vertical skinny painting, shows a black cane with the curved handle turned to the right, and at the bottom, what seems to be a wire coat-hanger turned to the left. Then you realise there is a cigarette painted along the bottom horizontal edge, and that the question mark/coat-hanger handle is in fact its smoke. Now the cane is starting to look ominous. Linking smoking with bad health perhaps.

There is a freshness about this show, a sense of pervasive energy, that is due to the variety of vibrant image Austin is presenting. The room has impact. The different meanings sneak up on you after you’ve left the space, for the images themselves are memorable. Exceptionally good.

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