- Purchased by the Friends of Christchurch Art Gallery, 2007
- Acrylic on unstretched canvas
- 2180 x 5000mm
Underworld 2 was painted in Tony de Lautour’s central city studio, a converted office building in pre-quake Christchurch. It was very nearly the same size as the wall on which he painted it. “It was the weirdest and most uncomfortable studio I’ve worked in, all brand new carpet and white walls that I had to cover with plastic, and surrounded by people paying huge rent to sit in those doomed-to-fail small businesses.”
De Lautour started painting in the top left corner of the canvas, and worked from left to right, down and along, gradually filling in the canvas with what looks like a mind map or a complex diagram of related forms. A giant flickering screen of digital code, perhaps, in which every line is of equal importance. He used a similar approach for several works of the time: “It seemed more factual to do it like handwriting. It also took away some of the compositional decision-making that can hinder a work.”
One of the largest paintings in the Gallery’s collection, Underworld 2 is a vast lexicon—a visual index—of the forms that have populated de Lautour’s works over the past twenty-five years. Lightning bolts, human heads, lions, empty speech bubbles, trees, mountain ranges, cobwebs, stars, smoke plumes, letters, numbers, crucifixes and dollar signs float freely in black space, a universe of symbols drawn from both ends of the visual register—from home-made tattoos to modernist abstraction by way of colonial landscapes.
De Lautour’s work has never been linear in its development, instead looping and swirling back and forth, picking up old ideas and deploying them in new contexts, reworking recent concepts in the light of earlier enquiries. Underworld 2 is like a stocktake of his pictorial inventory, humming with the energies of an immense cultural network. (Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)
Driving Without a Licence
Peter Robinson: I may be wrong about this, but I believe that we were the last generation to experience the primacy of painting at art school. What I mean by this is that when we were at Ilam, students had to compete to get into departments. As crazy as it sounds now, there was a very clear hierarchy: painting was the most popular discipline and afforded the most esteem, sculpture second, then film, print, design and photography somewhere down the line. Can you remember why you ended up choosing sculpture? And furthermore why you ended up being a painter? Do you think your training as a sculptor affected the way you think about or approach painting that is different to someone who was trained formally as a painter?
Tony de Lautour's Underworld 2
Underworld 2 is a must-see. I know, I know. Everything is a must-see or a must-read or a must-do in this society of superlatives and imperatives. But you really do need to be in the same room as this work. Underworld 2 is immense. You need to be in front of it—to be immersed, to be overwhelmed, to be confronted. I start at the left-hand side and plot my journey as if I am planning a road trip and this is my map; first south around the mountains, turn left, then keep going until you pass a lion on the right-hand side. Stop and take in the scenery, go down a dead-end road or two. There’s no rush. You’ll know when you’re there.
Your Hotel Brain
We recently opened a new collection-based exhibition, Your Hotel Brain. Curated by Lara Strongman, it focuses on the cohort of New Zealand artists who came to national – and in some cases international – prominence in the 1990s. The title of the exhibition is a phrase drawn from Don DeLillo’s epic novel, Underworld, published in 1997. It gestures towards the way that pieces of information float through your mind, checking in and out, everything demanding attention, everything happening all at once – a metaphor for postmodernism in the 1990s and for the increasing slippage of context in the digital era. The 1990s were a time of great social and cultural change in Aotearoa New Zealand, set against a broader backdrop of globalisation and the rise of digital technologies. Artists, as ever, registered these cultural shifts early. We asked a number of people who were working in the arts at the time to recall their experiences of the 1990s.
US V THEM: Tony de Lautour
Welcome to the low brow, high art world of Tony de Lautour’s paintings, sculptures and ceramics.
De Lautour / Greig / Hammond
An exciting opportunity to see new work by leading Canterbury artists Tony de Lautour, Jason Greig and Bill Hammond
This article first appeared as 'Painting offers a multiverse of symbols' in The Press on 21 June 2017.
Tony de Lautour's large painting Underworld 2 has taken shape in an even larger format as part of the wall of shipping containers protecting road users from rockfalls on the way out to Sumner.