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, December 14, 2009

Picnic on the top floor

Andrew Barber: Picnic
Gambia Castle at Britomart Masonic House, Level 3
9 December – 12 December 2009

The title Picnic seems to refer to spacious park or estate grounds for a location, and a plaid or tartan blanket on which the food to be consumed is placed. For these openly slick (rough whilst elegant) ‘unfinished’ landscapes are in fact two contradictory paintings – on both recto and verso. Painted tartans (ie. crisscrossing perpendicular and horizontal bands) on one side, and very brusherly but sweet vistas, modelled on real estate brochure photographs, on the other.

Andrew Barber’s elegant presentation of eleven such mischievous – but not really subversive – paintings in three linked artists’ studios on the top floor of Britomart Masonic house has a touch of the Scottish rebel about it - a fantasized claymore prodding the side of the wealthy landscape purchaser, an imagined dirk pricking their throat with its implied (but fake) symbolic ‘abstract’ violence. The tartans don’t look that Scottish. They look like Burberry and quite different from the tartans of say, Rob McLeod or Kenneth Noland paintings.

The presence of two paintings back to back on the same canvas also slows down the chemical process of paint hardening – not drying, using the principles of evaporation as with acrylic, but oxidizing so the skin solidifies, as with oil. The works have to hang around the studio longer and so tease the artist with their quick execution but slow stabilization.

The best works are the big landscapes, with lots of wild uncovered scumbling and lower strips of exposed primed canvas - presented to mock commerce but in fact embracing it. One enormous work is stunning and it alone is the worth the effort of clambering wearily up the stairs. It’s a good looking show in an impressive, attractively raw, venue.


Unknown said...

the shots in situ will be online presently, just as soon as we find them -andrew

Heidi Brickell said...

What fascinated me about this exhibition was a medium-large sized painting of a field, with laconic application of paint having the effect of dividing the painting somewhat into blocks of colour. For their lack of detail, it still recognised the image as a distinctively french landscape, for it's almost highlighter lemon yellows, pastel greens and mauves, lilacs and a dirty crimson. The latter three colours were not actually a part of the representational image, but were left as blocks or holes of bordering under-painting.
It was the fact that these colours are so often seen combined in photography, post- impressionist scenes and film of the french countryside that it appeared recognizable to the mind, in much the same way a word can be recognized with the letters jumbled up, as long as the first and last frame it correctly. This in turn, brought Mondrian to mind, oddly, as he is not an artist I think of often. Because of what might be seen today as a vulgar rationalistic pursuit of ideal beauty or nature through geometric arrangements of tone and proportion. This is actually quite an appropriate association because of the artist's supposedely ironic allusion to middle class commodified aesthetics. I'm sure Mondrian is not what Andrew was thinking of when he painted the work, but it struck me that what he had done, was successful by way of its operation upon a modernist hypothesis towards ultimate truth. And that a view of art and meaning that is often viewed from contemporary philosophical perspectives as naive, has manifest here, in a way that negates substantial criticism of it, by proving its validity. I agree with what you said, John, about the work being presented to mock but in fact embracing. And that the elegance and mastery of craft evidence in the paintings make the ironic social commentary stance seem like an alibi.
Heidi Brickell

Anonymous said...


John Hurrell said...

Hey Andrew...purses lips and whistles... how about it?