Where Burster Flipper claimed that 'Artists from near and far test the limits of their materials', 1 Slip Cast announced that 'ceramics are back ... New generations of artists are using ceramics ... incorporating other materials ... heedless of the traditional art/craft divide.' 2
Moreover, a number of the artists included in Slip Cast also featured prominently in Freedom Farmers, Auckland Art Gallery's recent survey of contemporary New Zealand art – notably Tessa Laird's The Politics of Ecstasy (2013), an installation of colourful and curious ceramics, and Isobel Thom's equally arresting installation of teapots, jugs, rocket stoves and bowls. So, is this shared interest in objects (their crafting and materials) in recent exhibitions in three of the country's principal public galleries simply coincidence? There is ample evidence to suggest otherwise. Many of the artists in Burster Flipper specifically commented on the act of making and use of materials in interviews for the exhibition. John Hurrell singled out the artwork as 'object' for particular attention in his title – Things (A Baker's Dozen): Five whatsits, two thingummies, two doodahs and four thingies (2013) – and also observed a shift in his thinking about making art: 'As I get older I'm enjoying colour and texture more and more.'3 Likewise, in discussing Spinner (2011), Miranda Parkes commented that she loved 'the physicality of painting. ... I think there are valuable limitations and therefore possibilities that come through when ideas are tied to, and mediated through, a physical medium like paint.'4
So where has this seemingly unanticipated preoccupation with highlighting materials and process come from? There are claims – not without an element of truth – that it represents a reaction against the predominance of an intrusive digital/virtual world through a newfound desire for authentic, handmade objects. Richard Orjis, a participating artist in both Freedom Farmers and Slip Cast, commented that the attraction of clay resided in its materiality: 'It's a way to celebrate the ... joy of the handmade; it's a reaction to or critique of the fast-paced streamlined art world.' 5
However, possibly of more import are changing perceptions about potential conflicts of interest between the crafting of the art object and its conceptual framework. Commenting on Erica van Zon's recent exhibition at City Gallery Wellington, The Light on the Dock, curator Lily Hacking observed that our understanding of van Zon's ceramics is 'transmutable, shifting, the objects [are] often overtly resistant to traditional systems of categorisation and display.' 6 Damian Skinner, curator of applied art at the Auckland Museum, has also recently noted that in contemporary craft, 'materials and skills are placed in the service of ideas, rather than being celebrated ends in themselves.' 7 This is a view also sanctioned by craft theorist Glenn Adamson, who maintains that 'skill as a management of risk [in making art] is not just a technical matter. It is fixed firmly within the decision-making process'. 8
For an artist like Judy Darragh (also participating in Burster Flipper) the attention that Adamson and Skinner give to the object as the outcome of an intimate relationship between making and ideas is hardly news. In 2004 she observed:
Objects aren't just that; crafted, fabricated or found objects. The object is the focus of the idea. The work becomes something that stands for the process of making, and the collective observation and consideration of making. ... Heart and hand. 9
A new generation of artists/jewellers/designers certainly agree with Darragh, with the former life of a found object and the historical narratives that its materials bring to an artwork now accorded a greater degree of respect in contemporary practice. Darragh further observed:
I've had a longstanding love affair with the found object. These objects have had another life, and there can be a continuation when they are drawn into work .... it's like the object already has a personality. This challenges the mystique of the original art object. And modern consumerism. 10
Darragh frequently discusses her work in terms of its 'other lives.' Her installation of painted corks in Swarm II (2014) has its origins in earlier works and her ongoing collection of corks from wine bottles; Darragh acknowledges that the additional 300 required to fill the space in Burster Flipper served as a reminder of the social occasions where her source material had come from – 'everywhere and everyone'. 11
As a new generation of artists respond to a desire for a more direct engagement with the handmade, the priority that Darragh has accorded to materials and process for more than twenty-five years is reflected in the work of many emerging and mid-career artists in New Zealand, including Steve Carr, Eve Armstrong and contemporary jewellers like Renee Bevan and Ross Malcolm.
Taking their lead from Darragh, artists such as Malcolm and Bevan also challenge traditional beliefs about what makes an object precious. How can jewellery be 'precious' when it is made of discarded items or found objects? Recently participating in Handshake (a mentoring project for arts graduates set up by teacher and jeweller Peter Deckers), 12 Darragh mentored Kristin D'Agostino, who made rings and brooches from fishing line and plastic takeaway containers – where else could the value of such work reside but in its idea and making? (Possibly with some degree of contrariness, Hurrell's and John Nicholson's contributions to Burster Flipper also makes use of plastic – that most humble of industrial materials.)
Discussing the qualities and characteristics of contemporary jewellery, Damian Skinner observes:
At its most productive, the critique of preciousness encourages contemporary jewelers to continually question the field itself, to renew the arguments about value that sit close to the heart of jewelry's legacy, and to draw on the techniques of art and craft to explore how the jewelry object can propose new conclusions about the body and society. 13
Skinner and Adamson have both considered the conception and making of objects outside familiar definitions of art and craft that have been predominant for the past thirty years, and in doing so they draw attention to the long-serving and questionable nature of such distinctions. Published in 2010, British ceramic artist Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes also addressed these concerns, highlighting the way in which objects in wider social spheres represent other values and perceptions of preciousness. 14 De Waal traced the history of his family's collection of seventeenth-century Japanese ceramics from the 1870s to the present day, documenting changes in ownership and the location of the works, giving prominence to their history as central to their substance and worth.
De Waal has also raised questions about prevailing distinctions between craft and art by focusing on the intimate and longstanding relationship between craft and the avant-garde throughout the twentieth century. He maintains that 'it is precisely because clay can be seen as practically worthless that so many artists have been able to use it as a material in exploratory and digressive ways'. 15 This has encompassed Picasso's ceramics and Jeff Koons's love of porcelain. He observes that Koons shamelessly admits it: 'Everyone grew up surrounded by this material. I use it to penetrate mass consciousness – to communicate to the people.' 16
Similarly, Adamson observes the vital role that craft, and its emphasis upon the qualities of materials, occupied in the development of Process Art in the United States in the 1960s. Rejecting the notion that works of art encompassed an experience of spiritual or emotional values, Process Art sought to reveal only materials and methods:
[There] was never a time at which craft was fully sidelined from the discourse of modern sculpture. In 1962 ... Robert Morris was already beginning to work with plywood. His recollections about this moment make it clear that ... craft had a profoundly liberating quality. 'At thirty I had my alienation, my Skilsaw, and my plywood ... When I sliced into the plywood with my Skilsaw, I could hear, beneath the ear-damaging whine, a stark and refreshing "no" reverberate off the four walls: no to transcendence and spiritual values, heroic scale, anguished decisions, historicizing narrative, valuable artefact, intelligent structure, interesting visual experience.' It was from this attitude that Process Art, the most craft-like of the twentieth-century avant-gardes was born. 17
Discussing Swoop (2013) – his installation of ceramic objects and wooden shelves (fixed deceptively loosely to the gallery walls in Burster Flipper) – Tony Bond talks specifically about the importance of making to realise the idea. He notes:
[With] these ceramic works the intimate involvement with the media and the initial open approach means judgement calls are continually being made throughout the making processes. ... The work builds on an idea, the outcome isn't predetermined. 18
Like the majority of participating artists in Burster Flipper, or Slip Cast and Freedom Farmers, Bond recognises the constraints of working with particular materials. He articulates an attitude that encapsulates fundamental challenges for any artist, recognising that some measure of solution to questions about the success or otherwise of a work is found in the process of making – a proposition possibly best summarised by Isobel Thom, who comments on her recent engagement with clay as part of her practice: 'limitations are your best friend.' 19
Warren Feeney curated and managed Kete 2014, a contemporary craft symposium and art fair for the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts and International Festival of the Arts in Wellington (27 February – 2 March 2014).
Lisa Walker: 0 + 0 = 0
It might be tempting to say that Lisa Walker makes jewellery out of any old thing – but it isn’t true. The eclectic objects that form her distinctive necklaces, brooches and other body-adornments are meticulously selected and shrewdly modified before they see the light of day. She salvages her materials from an unlikely cornucopia of sources – re-presenting objects such as car parts, animal skins and even kitchen utensils through the frame of body adornment’s long history. Tiny Lego hats, helmets and hairpieces – of the kind that clog vacuum cleaner nozzles in children’s bedrooms around the world – are strung on finely plaited cords like exotic beads or shells; trashy gossip magazines are lashed together to yield a breastplate befitting our celebrity-obsessed culture; dozens of oboe reeds donated by a musician friend bristle round the wearer’s neck like the teeth of some unimaginable deep sea leviathan.
Sydow: Tomorrow Never Knows
1960s London set the scene for Carl Sydow’s playful, op-inspired sculptures.
Julian Dashper's Untitled 1996
Sound artist Paul Sutherland chooses his favourite work from the Gallery’s collection.
Gordon Walters is best-known for work that fused the influence of European modernist art and Māori and Pacific art forms, particularly the koru motif of painted kōwhaiwhai rafter designs. Walters’ influences from European modernism included the hard-edged geometric abstractions of Victor Vasarely and Auguste Herbin, seen while in Europe in 1950–51. Walters made his first optically charged ‘koru paintings’ in 1956, but didn’t show them until 1966 when he first exhibited this painting in Auckland.
Walters’ adaptation of the koru has been both admired and criticised by cultural commentators. Walters himself, when discussing the motif, increasingly focused on the fine mechanics of abstraction:
'What I’ve done to the form is push it more in the direction of geometry. So that I can have in my painting not only a positive/negative effect of black and white, but I can also have a working of vertical and horizontal, which is equally important.' (Op + Pop, 6 February – 19 June 2016)
One of the highlights for staff over the eight or so years that the Christchurch Art Gallery was open prior to the shakes was the opportunity to work alongside Julian Dashper on his exhibition To The Unknown New Zealander.
This article first appeared as 'Balancing act' in The Press on 17 August 2012.
A texture-rich new exhibition at Oxford showcases the considerable talents of six Canterbury artists.
When it comes to posting comprehensive pictures of your new exhibitions online, opinion is divided.
A number of Gallery staff are planning to take part in the final Host a Brooch event this weekend.
Twelve New Zealand jewellery artists have made new work responding to the theme of talismans in culture. A selection of rare Oceanic talismans from Canterbury Museum are also included.
Simplicity and Splendour
An overview of the much-loved Arts and Crafts movement in Canterbury from 1882.
New Zealand in the Biennale of Sydney and the Biennale of Sydney in New Zealand
and the Biennale of Sydney in New Zealand
The New Plymouth-based Don Driver worked from the mid-1970s until the 1990s on sculptural assemblages made from found materials. Echoing the work of American pop artist Robert Rauschenberg, whose work Driver had experienced while visiting New York in 1965, Energy Triad makes assertive use of familiar, locally sourced items, placing pioneering farming tools alongside advertising and road signage, all with a meticulous eye to formal balance and arrangement.
The repurposed drumskin became a signature motif for Auckland-based Julian Dashper, whose conceptual art practice saw him develop an international exhibiting profile in the United States, Australia and Europe, before his untimely death in 2009.
Resonating with the American pop artist Jasper Johns’ 1950s target paintings, Dashper’s drumskin canvases were also made to honour a band of New Zealand’s pioneering modernists. In 1992 The Big Bang Theory saw him assembling full drumkits emblazoned with his heroes’ names: The Anguses, The Hoteres, The Colin McCahons, The Woollastons and The Drivers.
Packed with an energetic sense of movement, Simon Morris’s painting gives the effect of a boldly rhythmic musical score. Its pattern, appearing at first to be random or chaotic, is found to be sequenced and repeating, and with diagonals regularly breaking up the picture plane.
Morris builds on the legacy of pioneering New Zealand geometric abstractionists such as Carl Sydow and Gordon Walters. This optical sequence was generated by a mathematical formula, which he says “creates images that I wouldn’t come up with myself. It’s like the system partly makes the work.”
British artist Bridget Riley is a leading name in the op art movement. Her work came to international attention in 1965 when included in an exhibition called The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, alongside artists including Victor Vasarely and Josef Albers.
Riley’s earliest op art paintings in black and white had a major impact on 1960s fashion, advertising and design. She increasingly used colour in her work from 1967 onwards, when she also began using simplified forms, often vertical straight or wavy lines, and colour variation and contrast that produced a sense of movement.
Miranda Parkes’ Slumper occupies its own unique territory, but might also be seen as the wayward love child of British op artist Bridget Riley and American pop artist Claes Oldenburg, best-known for his giant, painted soft sculptures. Slumper seems ready to enfold the viewer and also perfectly comfortable in its own billowing skin. (Op + Pop, 6 February – 19 June 2016)
For the exhibition Untitled #1050 (25 November 2017 – 14 October 2018) this work was displayed with the following label:
“I like the rigorous quality of geometric abstract painting. I like the clarity of idea. I like the means used. I like the severity and the rigour of it. I don’t think this is a limitation. I think this is something which frees you to all kinds of investigation. It opens up all kinds of possibilities.”
—Gordon Walters, 1975
Carl Sydow has used these 20 cubes, each tilted onto one edge, to explore form, surface texture and the presence of objects within space. Taken individually, each object is distinct, as the 'light' falls in a different way on every surface, but together they form an engaging abstract pattern. Sydow created the work with a combination of precise ink drawing and the use of letrafilm, a system of ready-made transfers. The effect creates the illusion that the work is three-dimensional. Sydow's formal investigation of abstract properties such as colour, line, tone, volume and movement reflect the influence of Constructivism on his work. Born in Takapau, in the central Hawkes Bay, Sydow studied at the Schools of Fine Arts at both the University of Canterbury and Auckland University. After graduating, he went to the Royal College of Art, London, on an Arts Council grant from 1964 to 1966. Sydow regularly exhibited with The Group in Christchurch and was a founding member of the Sculptors’ Group, formed in 1970.
The title of this work translates from Mâori as ‘to bring to light, to claim again’. Each of the seven silver gelatin photographs depicts a Ngai Tahu heitiki (greenstone pendant) from the Auckland Museum. All from South Island locations, the heitiki are very sacred objects and it took Fiona Pardington 18 months to get permission from hapu (sub-tribes) to photograph them. Traditionally worn close to the heart, heitiki are fertility symbols and so are strongly connected with life and death.
Pardington has used an average of ten flashes for each exposure. This process recalls a Mâori idea that light is held within greenstone, suggesting that what Pardington was doing was not illuminating the heitiki, but releasing a light that was already there.
Pardington was born in Auckland. She is of Scottish and Mâori (Ngai Tahu, Kati Mamoe) descent. Since graduating with a degree in photography in 1984 from the University of Auckland, Pardington has exhibited widely and lectured on photography throughout New Zealand. She lives in Auckland.
New Zealand painter Gordon Walters started making his optically charged paintings in 1956, four years before the British painter Bridget Riley, op art’s principal exponent, began working with similar ideas. Walters’ explorations owed much to his study of Māori and Papua New Guinean art and their positive/ negative treatment of space, and to the abstract modernist painting he had seen while in Europe in 1950–51. Although best-known for his koru (fern bud motif ) paintings, his later, more simplified works remained equally visually challenging.
(Op + Pop, 6 February – 19 June 2016)
Roy Lichtenstein’s Flowers is art about art; a parody both of cubism and of the long-established still life genre. Lichtenstein was a leading figure in
the American pop art movement from the 1960s. He began making still lifes in 1972, riffing off artists such as Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian while applying his adaptation of graphic comic book style and commercial printing techniques.
Flowers exists in multiple versions. The screenprint (and a Christmas card) followed a much larger work in paper collage, tape and marker on card.
Mark Braunias has applied a kind of speculative genetic engineering to the work of Walt Disney, Andy Warhol and the surrealist Jean Arp, resulting in giant, amoeba-like versions of comic-book characters that appear ready to spring to life. A master of reassemblage and reinvention, Braunias makes his ‘quick draw’ from a vast cache of popular cultural and historical sources, while applying a quiet dose of wry intent. (Op + Pop, 6 February – 19 June 2016)
Like a Gordon Walters painting doing the cancan, Julia Morison’s Tootoo makes ready to kick the high-minded formalism out of abstract painting and take the viewer on a wild, exhilarating dance. Folding and reversing on itself, and playing with positive and negative space, the work's elaborate structure creates a powerful visual conundrum. (Op + Pop, 6 February – 19 June 2016)
Closely associated with notions of fame and popular culture, Andy Warhol was a leading name in American pop art, and renowned for using the aesthetics of advertising and commercial printing techniques in his work.
Warhol’s screenprint of Mao Tse-Tung was made when communist China’s founder was still alive. It adapted a portrait that was used throughout China in veneration of its leader and his ideas. The blue-faced Chairman Mao is one of a series of colour variations Warhol created, all equally startling. He made similar portraits of American icons including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and Mickey Mouse.
Neil Dawson’s sculptures consistently explore the slippage between appearance and reality. We think we see solid forms, but on closer inspection they turn out to be illusions.
Whiteout conveys Dawson’s fascination with these ideas and playfully challenges our perceptions of space and movement. This wall sculpture is reminiscent of the early structures of the Dadaists and Russian Constructivist sculptors Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953) and Antoine Pevsner (1886–1962) in the early 20th century. Dawson is one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary site-specific artists. His innovative use of sculptural materials and principles of perspective are evident in this early example of his work.
Born in Christchurch, Dawson studied at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, Melbourne. He has exhibited widely and has several major public installations in New Zealand and internationally.
This work is one a series of screenprints, the name of which reflects Mervyn Williams’ love of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music and also refers to variations in colour. He has said that Chromatic Variations IX can be looked at as if it was a Tibetan mandala, rather than simply being a design. Williams’ painting and printing have always centred on formal abstraction. In the Chromatic Variations series he abstracted forms in a complex manner and experimented with different colours in each print. Williams was born in Whakatane in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. In 1956 he met artist Ted Dutch (b. 1928) who got him interested in silk-screen work. Williams studied at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland. He won First Prize in the Graphic Section of the Hay’s Art Award in 1966 and was represented in the ‘International Biennale Exhibition of Graphic Art’ in Tokyo in 1966 and 1972. Williams also won the New Zealand Print Council Samarkand Award in 1969.
In Naturist Reuben Paterson revels in geometric patterns and sharp contrasts between black and white, reminiscent of 1960s hard-edged abstraction, op-art and Maori designs. The delicate, illusory effect Naturist has on the viewer is heightened by Paterson’s use of glitter, a recurring feature in his work.
Naturist draws on an installation at Riccarton House in 2004 where the artist created a black and white optical illusion of the landscape. Tapping into invisible, undulating energies left behind by Maori, Naturist is a study of how collective energies from the past are reflected in the land.
Paterson graduated from the Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland, in 1997. In the same year he was selected as one of three recipients of the Moet & Chandon Fellowship, awarding him a six-week residency in France.