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.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Five artists at Tim Melville's

Tim Melville Gallery
26 January - 27 February 2010

Tim Melville has organised this group show of Elliot Collins, Annika Roughsey, Linden Simmons, Joyanne Williams and Wayne Youle. There is lots of work by Collins, with two from Simmons (same works as recently seen in Snowwhite), and one each from Youle and the two Australians, Williams and Roughsey.

Simmons’ two delicate and meticulous watercolours are based on newspaper photographs, something I never realised when I last saw them at UNITEC – usually of natural disasters or horrific man-made tragedies. They spot-light the nature of desensitisation – whether of the casual reader perusing the Herald over morning tea at work, or the visitor looking at these works in a gallery, or the artist himself perpetuating it via ‘beauty’ and a visual ‘sensitivity’. One watercolour is based on a photo of an air crash, another of an atomic bomb cloud – perhaps generating the exhibition’s clever title. In other words it speaks of blocking out radiation, or avoiding unpleasant thoughts – as much as escaping the effects of summer sunlight.

The vertical canvas stretchers of the two Aboriginal painters reference ancestral creatures, possibly their body surface-coverings like scales (Williams) or feathers (Roughsey), or even aerial views of landscape and ancestral homelands. William’s painting has a wonderful sensitivity where the thin white brushtip marks let the black background peek through the dry transparent liquid.

Wayne Youle’s small painting is a gorgeous little flat abstraction that has three vertical pharmaceutical capsules lined up in a horizontal row. Their curved ends press gently against the upper and lower edges while their three alternating white halves pulse against the soft pink-gray background. The title, A bitter pill to swallow, seems at odds with the seductive nature of the work, as if it were an epiphany, some newly arrived-at but shocking revelation Youle was quietly pondering. Perhaps an unpleasant truth about the nature of art itself.

The Elliot Collins works are of two types: bisected abstracted landscapes, and texts. The former seem from a distance to be like impeccably smooth Bryce Mardens but when you get closer you realise they are painted on hessian. That coarsely woven material means you think of McCahon (especially with the biggest work that has a wonderful cow-shit green for a sky – a witty reversal), and Fomison and Clairmont. You see the texture under the paint surface as well as the occasional hole. And memories of those seminal artists interfere with your viewing of these painted rectangles that cannot remain formally pure but reek of New Zealand art history.

That interest in narrative is the key to Collins’ sensibility, his love of language as a material being like the paint he often agitates beneath it. He is getting better and better at putting words together in entertaining and sometimes truly moving arrangements.

How about this for spell-bindingly slippery inventiveness:
I was walking along the beach yesterday and saw a man with a dog who was fighting a stick and the whole event fell into a beautiful superlative, in the universal scene. You know. Small, smaller, smallest.

I can read that over and over and not tire of laughing - as the ambiguous/confusing words turn into a movie that pulls back away from the tormented walker and his frisky animal.

What about this one about the sudden simplicity, relief and exultation of newly discovered love:
Here I give thanks that falling in love with strangers is not inappropriate or weird.

These contemplative paintings are interesting with their flipped-back and interwoven mental sequences, and subtly interfering painted backgrounds that vary from churning brushmarks to galaxies of toothbrush-flicked white on black specks.

Collins’ play between mental picturing and viewed text goes well with the tension that Linden Simmons achieves with his seductive watercolour fineness and disturbing sources, or the flipping to and fro of Youle’s pill abstraction, and Williams and Roughsey’s animal surfaces and birds-eye landscapes. Though sometimes Melville hangs different works too closely together on the two main walls of his rather intimate space, this thoughtfully assembled exhibition is quite exceptional.

Artists’ images in descending order: installation of back wall; Simmons; Simmons; installation in main space; Williams; Youle; Collins; Collins.

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