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, July 22, 2009

Compelling paintings

John Pule: Nothing must remain
Gow Langsford
22 July - 15 August 2009

This presentation of twenty illustrated poems on paper and eight grey painted canvases continues the themes of earlier Pule shows. The hiapo canvases (their structures based on Niuean barkcloth) now have portions of polyurethane varnish mixed with enamel paint. The densely ornamental, gridded images are becoming more complicated, with the graphic linear areas contrasting with painterly sections of swirling honey coloured resin.

The interaction of land and sea - bays and estuaries around North Auckland, with cloud dotted skies – enrich these composite paintings that are also laden with sailing ships and sea monsters, octopuses, serpents, and copulating Gods. It is a rich panorama that includes chopped up beached whales and narwhals - and crowds of bystanders that might include the ghosts of whalers. Historic and contemporary time (before the Europeans came to the Pacific, and after) are happily mixed together.

With Pule’s drawing the thin, weedy pen and ink lines don’t work as well as the thick, smoky, oil-sticked configurations. The lines are too spidery and anaemic - for he is not a skilled draughtsperson: his shapes are often casually trite and cack-handed. This lack of drawing ability is easily hidden within the complex canvases (that from a distance look like huge prints) but not with the pages of handwritten poems. Their pen and ink and watercolour drawings reveal a great deal.

For this reason, the gridded canvases with their differently sized comic-like frames containing internal narratives, and unusual blending of different media, hold your interest. The looseness and spontaneity of Pule’s graphic and painting style works well mixed with changing grid modules and inserts of runny, oozy enamel-streaked varnish and smudgy paint stick. When he avoids delicate inked lines in bald isolation, his images stay compelling.

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