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.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Painted drawings and drawn paintings

Drawing on Paint: Amber Wilson, Anna Rankin, DJN, Elliot Collins, Linden Simmons
Snowwhite, UNITEC
30 November 2009 - 22 January 2010

Drawing On Paint carries on from a related earlier exhibition Painting on Paper at RM last year that looked at the relationship between painting and drawing. Though the short essay (written by Linden Simmons) that accompanies this new show presents the view that drawing is investigative research whereas painting is less concerned with process and searching and more to do with a fully resolved final statement, this show like its predecessor blurs the two. It has some completed drawings made entirely for their own sake, and paintings that function as tentative exploration. The display is smart, compact and sprightly.

Maybe also a pinch prissy – there’s nothing too rough or wildly dirty because as the title suggests it is mostly watercolour - not crumbly charcoal, crayon or smudgy soft black pencil. It is not likely to be graphic or tonally moody. Instead it is dominated by lettered language, liquid colour and pattern. Yet though paper as a support is ubiquitous, there are surprises: some of these drawings (they are mostly painted drawings) are on supports of board (Rankin); another consists of three lengths of painted timber, leaning on each other and the wall.

This last work, Superlative, by Elliot Collins, plays on one syllable adjectives having comparative and superlative forms, and so the three illustrative measures in wood lean vertically - with the tallest painted piece (a black ‘superlative’) against the wall, the shorter white ‘comparative’ on that and then the runty pale blue ‘adjective’ on the outside. It also casually plays with space outside of grammatical parts of speech, teasing out the tonal conventions of drawing and use of foreground versus background. You could say it is a painting in three parts that examines some of the linear properties of drawing.

Collins’ other work is eighty differently coloured sheets bearing the hand lettered phrase ‘You will last forever’ – drawn in felt-tip marker –and displayed like a thick pad on the wall. The expression could refer to an artist’s wish to be remembered forever, or it could refer to the fading properties of the unstable felt-tip ink – both drenched in irony.

Anna Rankin’s contribution consists of three somewhat clumsy watercolours of fantasy worlds in contained in bottles or glass hearts, and a more successful typed list of posthumous albums by Hank Williams added to other releases by his very much alive son, Hank Williams Jnr. The 53 items in chronological order play on the confusion between the music of both.

The best language works here though are written in stencilled inked letters and stained in sump oil. These drawings by DJN are not working studies but fully complete. They ironically refer to the market as a barometer of quality, and grimly joke about McCahon and the recession, and the power of curators as gatekeepers, using streaky dribbles of car oil that run away from the letters - from bottom to top - within each page, inverting the sense of the texts.

The two blue watercolours by Linden Simmons impress with their chromatic restraint, rich textured detail, intimacy and general ambiguity. One is of sky forms over an agitated sea and the other of puddle reflections on a muddy road. The nearby works by Amber Wilson are delicately patterned but not so compelling, despite their warm mosaic of restlessly fidgeting shapes.

This is a well assembled exhibition, though its curator is disappointingly unstated - it could be gallery manager Mary-Louise Browne or essayist Linden Simmons. The five artists interconnect well. There are similarities between Wilson and Rankin (images of colourful food on tables), Collins and DJN (with their stencils), and DJN and Simmons (related brushwork), and with the essay by Simmons, they make a good catalyst for debate around this topic. It’s odd because sculptors generally seem far more interested in investigative drawing than painters, despite the overlap between drawing and say watercolour painting. It’s a good theme to examine.


gnute said...

Dear John, I don't think that 'prissy' is a good or accurate term. You seem to suggest that watercolours done on paper (as opposed to board support, or other media like charcoal) are too prim, safe, conservative, and therefore boring. That doesn't make sense to me... There are no images of the paintings in this show, so I don't know if you were reacting to boring subject matter instead. Didn't you once give Richard Bryant's delicate watercolours a glowing review?

Lydia Chai

John Hurrell said...

Good to get your comments Lydia. When I write articles with no images it is because there are none around and I want to gain a certain momentum by presenting readers with a discussion anyway.

'Prissy' is accurate for what I was trying to get across. I was talking about a group show (not solo)showing a range of possibilities - not watercolours per se. There are lots of ways the medium can be used. It doesn't have to be fastidious, meticulous or anal. It can be wild, messy and loose too.

Nor does it have to be watercolours of course.