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, February 9, 2010

Jensen group show

Kelly Knoebel Roeth Bambury Innes Judd
4 February - 6 March 2010

In the big downstairs space this six person show of regular Jensen artists, has mixed in some surprises - including some spectacular works on paper by legends Ellsworth Kelly and Donald Judd. The work as a collective body of geometric abstraction coheres well, though varying in its use of painted materials, the key chromatic (and dramatic) component in many items being a vibrant orange.

The 2 row 10 unit woodcut by Judd sets the tone. Typically it is permutations on a theme, with a five variation outer frame lined up on top and its removed rectangular centre positioned below. Both types of woodgrained orange shape, framed but not under glass, are traversed by single or double horizontal and vertical lines - the logic being tight, all possibilities intact.

Callum Innes has two wonderful ‘additive-subtractive’ paintings where orange and black oil paint has been applied (along with various other colours underneath) with sweeping horizontal arm movements, and then the righthand half of each vertically hung canvas slowly removed via the vertical application of turps. The process is very evident from the coloured stains and rivulets on the stretcher sides, and the ghostly smudges and scrubbed blurs on the canvas proper.

The only New Zealander here is Stephen Bambury. His single rectangular painting is related to pitted panels in his recent Jensen solo show. Here overlapping matt blue-grey and white-glazed black oblongs create a tension with a shiny black section in the centre, while two adjacent orange rectangles glow on the top left and bottom right corners.

The layers of thin white washes on the top right black rectangle have dark blurry edges and are comparatively abandoned, loose even (they could almost be sprayed) – with a very faint orange horizontal streak peeking through underneath near the top. This makes the work devoid of the tightly interlocking (and – I think - much superior) structure apparent in other similar, more recent works.

On the large wall by the office are two panels, one blood orange, the other soft Prussian blue, by Winton Roeth that are arranged one above (but not touching) the other. They are affected by gold lines bordering their outer edges, for the metallic colour is comparatively unstable – deepening and paling as you move past; disturbing their perimeters – unlike the intransigent velvety, paired oblongs enclosed within.

Imi Knoebel’s six sets of overlapping, paint-brushed, paper sheets play off qualities of hue and Albers’ Law of Simultaneous Contrast against directional striations caused by brush bristles agitating the wet painted surface. The striations within both the large and small sheets of each pair vertically descend above one stroke that horizontally traverses along the lower edge.

Each pair is positioned so their bottom edges are flush, and their optical qualities are difficult to determine - ie. is the colour the result of careful mixing by the artist, or the result of a very considered choice of painted background? Is the colour we perceive actually on the paper or in our brain? The large sheets alternate in their tonal qualities, also exploring nuances of chromatic temperature. They and their companions are under glass, and within stainless steel, welded burnished frames.

Ellsworth Kelly’s works from the mid–seventies provide the deliciously vibrant and eloquent flat shapes he is known for. One is a screenprint, the other a lithograph. The latter is a horizontal curve over two metres long. There is barely detectable embossed, straight edge above it that seems to enclose the hill-like form as if in a delicate, flat box.

This is a good introduction to the overseas artists in this show. The Kelly, Judd, and Knoebel paper works are particularly unusual.

(As in order of discussion, the images are by Judd, Innes, Bambury, Roeth, Knoebel and Kelly.)

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