Brent Harris is an Australian artist, well known for a practice that explores the productive tension between abstraction and figuration. By locating emotional content in figures that he develops from automatic drawing, his works frequently express an uneasy human subjectivity. But while his imagery deals with intense psychological states, it is often also darkly funny: monsters of the subconscious, both grotesque and ridiculous, rise to the surface in a process of emotional identification and gradual refinement.
Time is a problem in the contemporary world. There is simply not enough of it. Our to-do lists are too long; the time available to do what needs to be done is too short; the demands on our attention are increasingly brutal. Digital technologies track the minutiae of how we spend our days, but the sheer speed at which things seem to be happening makes it difficult to keep up.
I was in London last October and keen to visit Ron Mueck, but he wasn’t there: he’d gone down to Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight, where he has a studio. I spent my childhood in England, but I’d never been to the Isle of Wight. It’s in the English Channel; a Victorian retreat beloved by Tennyson, who wrote ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ here. It was also the home of the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who made portraits of many of Tennyson’s guests. (When Tennyson took the American poet Longfellow to Cameron’s house for a portrait, he reportedly warned: “You’ll have to do whatever she tells you. I’ll come back soon and see what’s left of you.”)
Early in 2017, Professor John Simpson, the former head of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury, approached the Gallery’s then director, Jenny Harper, with a proposition: he had been considering the future of the art collection he had accumulated over the past six decades, and wished to know whether the Gallery would be interested in selecting a group of works for a gift. My colleague Ken Hall and I visited John one afternoon in March. It quickly became apparent to us that the collection was signiﬁcant and that the oﬀer was particularly generous. Interestingly, we discovered that the works variously represented John’s own artistic interests and his national and international artworld connections. As such, they told a story of art and art history that usefully expanded the local account.
Lara Strongman: Let’s talk about the process of making the works for this exhibition. Can you describe how you produced them?
Julia Morison: I’ve never actually made ceramics before. I read Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, which is about a netsuke set that is passed through several generations. De Waal is a ceramicist and he talks in this book about objects and porcelain in such a visceral way—basically he seduced me into picking up a ball of clay and playing with it. For a long time I haven’t had the use of my hands [because of arthritis], so I thought that playing with clay might actually help strengthen them.
Late on a mild spring afternoon in mid-September, I travelled out of the city to a farm paddock somewhere up the line near Amberley, up front in a battered van carrying six drone pilots and their gear. The sun was low in the sky and Ōtautahi was framed in an arch of nor’west clouds. It was the first fine day in weeks.
Lara Strongman: This show brings together thirty years or more of your work, put together with the curators from Dunedin Public Art Gallery. I wondered what you’d discovered through the process?
Marie Shannon: I discovered that I hadn’t moved very far. That’s not to say that I didn’t feel my work had developed, but I’d just run around in such confined territory. Of course that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I found it confronting to look at that short reach in my output. I had to convince myself that it didn’t all look like shit. (You probably can’t say that here because you want people to come and see the exhibition, but I’m being perfectly honest.) Each time the show was hung, I’d walk away feeling despondent and then I’d sort of think, “No, it’s actually okay”.
Lara Strongman: Why did you call this work Hoa Kōhine (Girlfriend)?
Lonnie Hutchinson: The work is very feminine in nature. Because it’s the 125 year celebration of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa this year, I wanted to refer to women, and to the friendship between women. “Girlfriend” is what women friends call each other, in an affectionate sort of way. Hey girlfriend! And in a text we’ll use gf.
When you think about it, The Dutch Funeral is a peculiar title for a work painted in the Netherlands, by a Dutch artist. You could imagine such a work being titled The Funeral, or A Funeral; or even more likely, A Funeral at a Specified Place or possibly At a Specified Time. Even Of a Certain Person. But The Dutch Funeral? Most unlikely. It was while we were researching works for the Closer exhibition that its strangeness suddenly became evident to me. I was surprised that I’d never questioned the title before. But then, like many people who grew up in Christchurch, I was used to The Dutch Funeral as a fixture of local culture, a work so large it could never be taken off the wall at the McDougall; a magnificently gloomy painting which van der Velden scholar Rodney Wilson once described as “a sort of Christchurch version of the Night Watch with an immense public following”.
John Stezaker is an English conceptual artist, acknowledged as a significant influence on the YBA generation. He has been working since the mid-1970s, while achieving international acclaim for his work in the past fifteen years. His exhibition Lost World opens at Christchurch Art Gallery in March 2018. He spoke to senior curator Lara Strongman on a visit to Aotearoa New Zealand in August 2017.