Robin Neate In a lonely place 2013. Oil on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, purchased 2016

Robin Neate In a lonely place 2013. Oil on canvas. Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, purchased 2016

Robin Neate's In a Lonely Place

I still fondly recall my initial exposure as a teen to Ian Curtis’s final and uncannily premonitory composition with Joy Division, In a Lonely Place. But with its violaceously autumnal palette, Robin Neate’s work of the same name feels far removed from the dismal granite grey of a Manchester morning, or even the stark monochrome of the 1950 Nicholas Ray film that both of these pieces appropriate their title from.

Ray himself (whom Neate named his Ray Paintings series after) was “the outcast Hollywood rebel, white hair, black eye-patch, and a head full of subversion and controlled substances.”1 In writing about the isolation or outsiderness of Ray’s cinema, the filmmaker and critic Jacques Rivette proposed that “everything always proceeds from a simple situation where two or three people encounter some elementary and fundamental concepts of life. And the real struggle takes place in only one of them, against the interior demon of violence … which seems linked to man and his solitude.”2

Compared to film or music, the allure of the solitary nature of painting was possibly the primary motivator in my decision to move from Wellington to Christchurch to study at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts under Robin Neate. Neate himself has said that “In A Lonely Place could be an artist in their studio rather than the title of one of Ray’s films.”3 I also found his embrace of cinema very encouraging, as this was something I’d been looking at in my own practice. There is something of the (albeit taciturn) outsider in Neate’s personality and practice too; during writer John Hurrell’s visit to my studio last November he reminisced about having been in the same painting year as Neate at Canterbury and remembers him as being something of a rebel. In a recent email he elaborated: “Robin was distinctive in that he made monochromes, which was pretty outrageous for a first year student who was straight in from school. I never saw any other first years do that. Painting monochromes was very cheeky.”

In the flesh, these paintings are quite overwhelming due to their imposing scale. I recall visiting Hamish McKay Gallery as this work was being packaged and shipped to Christchurch and I can still visualise the difficulty with which it was hauled down the stairs. On a special recent trip into the innards of Christchurch Art Gallery’s storerooms I was able to enjoy an extended peek at In A Lonely Place and was struck by the textures and remnants from previous layers where Neate had overpainted early attempts. Neate explains: “each layer (informs) the next until I get them to a point where they feel right.”4

As I bus in from Antrim farm (my partner’s parents’ estate in Valetta) on the Ash Vegas to Christchurch intercity link, I’m reminded of but one reason why Robin Neate’s Ray Paintings, and In A Lonely Place in particular, resonate so thoroughly with me: their sumptuous chromatic field evokes and reinterprets the distribution of these gloriously pinkish twilit horizons that we’re lucky enough to observe here in Canterbury on a brisk, autumn night.


Stereoscope: Robin Neate

Stereoscope: Robin Neate

Christchurch artist Robin Neate's contribution to the Gallery's Stereoscope programme is drawn from his recent series of energised abstract paintings.

In a lonely place
Robin Neate In a lonely place

In a Lonely Place is the title of a classic film noir directed by Nicholas Ray, who was best known for the countercultural movie starring James Dean in his most celebrated role, Rebel Without a Cause. When Robin Neate was titling this work—which comes from a series he called the Ray Paintings—he chose the phrase for its evocative feeling and ability to provoke personal readings from the viewer. “In a lonely place. I’ve been thinking maybe that’s where painting is today, but at the time that I chose it I was thinking more about the loneliness of working in your studio or even living in this part of the world.”

The Ray Paintings continue Neate’s earlier explorations of abstraction in photographs and experimental films. “Cinema has influenced me as much as painting”, he says. “Growing up in New Zealand, cinema gave you ideas from the wider world that might resonate with you.” Falls of light in darkened rooms, clouds of dust in a projector beam, the blur of an out-of-focus image; Neate’s abstract paintings recall long afternoons spent in movie theatre matinees during the 1950s and 60s while other kids were outside playing sport. “The way we see history is always linked to our personal histories. How and when we encounter images is always significant. It’s that emotional context for art that interests me the most.”

Neate’s works reveal a concern for the discarded and outmoded. Painting, he suggests, is not a linear practice but one filled with loops and double-backs, whose history—along with the wider register of visual culture—is instantly available as source material for a contemporary artist.

(Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)

A miscellany of observable illustrations

A miscellany of observable illustrations

Romantic notions of gothic leanings, the legacy of Tony Fomison, devotion to rock sub-genres and an eye to the past are familiar and sound reasons to group Tony de Lautour, Jason Greig and Bill Hammond together in one exhibition, but De Lautour / Greig / Hammond is to feature new and recent work. Could all this change? What nuances will be developed or abandoned? Will rich veins be further mined? We can only speculate and accept that even the artists concerned can't answer these questions. For the artist, every work is a new endeavour, a new beginning. What may appear to the public, the critic or the art historian as a smooth, seamless flow of images is for them an unpredictable process where the only boundaries are those that they choose to invent.