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March 5, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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The Rock Show

The Wellington Arts Centre, or Toi Poneke as the chardonnay socialists refer to it, always puts on a good opening exhibition. Friday 16 February at 6pm was no exception as I filled up on the sponsored Macs beers and the free Lindauer bubbly. I was waiting for a Fringe Festival visual arts show, hosted by the centre, to begin. Usually when I hear the words Fringe Festival I run as it’s usually a hipster wank fest, but this time I was prepared to hang around for a while. It was probably the free alcohol that kept me there with the other professional gallery opening crowd, but I quickly noticed that this show was going to be worth it.

A drum kit had been set up and there were amps and guitars lying around. Curious, I asked someone what it was all about and was told that it was the Rock Show. While already half pissed, someone interrupted the revelry and introduced Michael Hawkins, a resident artist of the centre and teacher at Wellington College. Mike was going to paint on the walls of the Arts Centre every Friday night for three weeks while local band The Resistance played rock music. Complimentary earplugs were given out for those with sensitive hearing and the curator Gabby O’Connor explained more of the philosophy behind the show. Rock and roll is supposed to be an art form and what could be more artistic than a show celebrating this by having an expressionist artist painting an abstract artwork on the walls of the gallery to live rock music?

It wasn’t just for Cuba Street scenesters in their 20s either. The children of Island Bay School had been invited to make paper rocks out of envelopes that lined the walls. Why there were envelopes wasn’t specifically explained but they did look really B grade sci fi, creating an interesting effect.

Knowing that this was supposed to be all about rock and roll, I asked the drummer of The Resistance to yell out to the artist to put some beer in the paint. But like a lot of other trendy local musicians he quipped, “Yeah and some cocaine too,” and yelled out nothing when push came to shove. But luckily the lead singer playfully mocked the artist and Mike got into the spirit of things when he kept falling over due to his enthusiasm.

If you’d said to me earlier in the day that I would be standing there watching an artist paint to live music I’d have thought it would have seemed a bit too pretentious for my liking. But this kind of thing is very New York and for a moment I felt like I was actually in New York gallery. It’s probably as close as I will get to being there and in the drunken haze it made me think of Martin Scorsese’s dark contribution to the 1989 film New York Stories called Life Lessons. In particular a scene where Nick Nolte, playing a jealous and possessive artist, frenetically paints a huge mural to a kick ass live version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ at full volume, while his muse, a young exploited assistant played by Rosanna Arquette, was having it off in the next room. Although he was also influenced by Jackson Pollack and Wassily Kadinsky, Michael Hawkins’ art is a lot brighter.

When the earplugs were out and the sweat had dried, I asked the artist what would happen to the paintings and he said, “I will have to sand them off the wall!” He did explain that it was better that they were temporary as it made the paintings more special and the exhibition more of an event than just a mundane painting session in a studio. There were moments of pretentiousness but I forgave them because there was enough philosophy in the partying to make it true Rock Art. I also didn’t mind any pretension because it was honest as to what it was, it wasn’t trying to be anything more than what it actually was. So finally, in a drunken stupor and with ringing ears, I wandered off digesting the rock I had swallowed in a sweaty gallery on a random Friday night.

As a postscript to this review, Salient music editor Stacey Knott will be interviewing The Resistance, who are planning on taking the Rock Show on tour live with Michael Hawkins. It should be interesting to hear about their ideas and philosophy.

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