It’s Not Dry Yet

A Group Painting Show

Showing 9th June 2014 - 5th July 2014

Exhibition Information

It’s Not Dry Yet - A Group Painting Show

I wondered if the picture he was working on would ever arrive. Over the paper with its chaotic mass of flowing colour, he was a wet worker, his brushes guided by instinct… darted here and there designing, taking out, putting in all those telling blobs of colour which went to making one of his most exquisite landscapes.[i]

In his lively description more than 100 years ago of the painting processes of his tutor, Alfred Walsh (1859-1916), the aspiring landscape painter, John Cam Duncan (1881-1942), inadvertently identified at least one good reason why the act of painting sustains its prominence today in a world over-indulged with images.

Duncan’s account of Walsh’s working methods, detail the making of a particular kind of image. One that realises the potential of the artist’s materials and processes, and signifies a particular response to the world. For Duncan, the design and consideration of a ‘chaotic mass of flowing colour’ in Walsh’s painting was as impressive as the resulting image. A work of art that he maintained was one of Walsh’s ‘most exquisite landscapes.’

Duncan is not just describing the particular methods of an Edwardian artist familiar with plein-air painting traditions. His observations are far more universal – today giving authority to New York art critic Barry Schwabsky’s critique of the legitimacy of painting in the early 21st century. Schwabsky neatly observes:

The painting is not there to represent the image; the image exists in order to represent the painting.[ii]

Schwabsky maintains that it is the art work as idea (and as attitude) that is central to the act and realisation of a painting. He addresses enduring questions about painting, highlighting the subjective nature of the artist’s ideas as central to sustaining its longevity:

The painting is part and parcel of reality… the aggregate of images…. [For example;] Matisse’s sense of image, which was so influence by [Henri Bergson, is] not necessarily a whole ‘picture’ but any simple or complex sensation, so that the pictorial elements – the colours, shapes, and textures of which an abstract painting might be composed – are also already images.[iii]

It’s a stance that that the artists in It’s Not Dry Yet, assume as a given. In a painting like Pascoid Tiki #17, (2013). Frizzell comments that his appropriations of the Tiki and studies by Pablo Picasso of African masks encompass “a wide variety of ‘old-school’ brushwork.” He comments: ‘The thing that fascinates me about these works is how they give me a legitimate line straight back to these classic notions of paint management.’[iv]

In the refinement of its colour, interlacing marks and rhythms, Amber Wilson’s Perfume Chalet (2013) perfectly understands the slippages and concealments that take place between abstraction and figuration – Aerial map of a table desk? Pattern fabric or pure abstraction? Or an abstract image that domesticates a history of formalist geometric painting? This testing of boundaries and democratic reading of an image is shared by Tony de Lautour. In a painting of coloured geometric forms, floating and coalescing in an indeterminate space, Untitled, (2014) makes familiar references to the iconography of European abstraction and the Suprematist paintings of Kazimir Malevich. Yet, De Lautour seems both convinced and amused by such works, particularly the way in which they allow an artist to create a world independent of reality, operating within its own rules of space, colour and form. Yet in spite of any homage that Untitled may represent to pure abstraction, it also seems to exist on the margins of a promising narrative and a passage into the real world.

Stanley Palmer Moturoa – Cathedral Rock – Ahuahu (2013), is a landscape painting that is more than a record of the geography of a particular site. Palmer’s interests reside in an image that sits between narrative and luminous painted object. He responds to the subject of the beach in Taranaki, recording the outline and relationship between land and sea, and the particular quality of oil, thinned and infused through the linen canvas.

The subject of Simon Edwards’ paintings seem to be as much about a recognition of romantic traditions of sublime landscapes as they are about locating the viewer within the experience of such conventions. Yet, equally Edwards establishes a degree of objective detachment between the canvas and its audience – consciously positioning the spectator’s reading of the image by drawing attention to the quality of the artist’s materials and processes – the capacity for paint to meld and dissipate its subjects.

It is possible to consider John Walsh’s Hawaiki dreaming as a memory of home – a place and destination to return to. It retains the familiarity of an iconography of a stairway to heaven – yet to read the painting as literal or purely figurative is only part of its narrative. Walsh’s manipulation of paint, implicates the viewer’s capacity for entry and engagement to a promise of home. For example; the curious emphasis he gives to a splendid and brilliant light in the foreground and its ambiguous relationship to middle and background distance, all establish an expanse between viewer and destination. Not so much a landscape as a state of mind and being.

Even in giving the painting Sun Shower its title, there is an admission by Katie Thomas about an allegiance to painting – its methods, traditions, materials and conventions. Sun Shower warmly draws attention to the deceptions and virtues of painting as a means to make tangible, the ephemeral and transient. Thomas orchestrates a rich, painterly series of colour harmonies that are integral to a narrative about an impression of light and atmosphere – the beauty of a summer’s garden and the quality and substance of paint, surface, gesture and colour.

It would, however, be misplaced to maintain that Thomas’ art is a close kindred spirit of the work of plein-air painters like Afred Walsh, praised by his student for many of the qualities of light and colour that could also be credited to Thomas. Like all the participating artists in It’s Not Dry Yet, she shares a consciousness of the unceasing profusion of images in the world today. A shared awareness of images that exist in abundance, all acting as an experience of the world as imagined realities and available to the artist for recognition, questioning and transformation. And it is this that also inevitably sustains painting today – A profusion of images to represent paintings that; ‘already somehow exists out there in the world.’[v]

Warren Feeney 2014

[i] Student John Cam Duncan on his tutor, Alfred Walsh, c. 1900, Warren Feeney, The Radical, the Reactionary and the Canterbury Society of Arts 1880 -1996, Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2011, p. 56

[ii] http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n1/pdfs/schwabsky.pdf

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Dick Frizzell, Email to Chambers 241, 31 March 2014

[v] http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n1/pdfs/schwabsky.pdf

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