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July 9, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Four Times Painting

Adam Art Gallery
2 June – 29 June

It was a quiet and low-key week in the local arts scene. Every one was blurry-eyed from watching too much sailing and there were not enough gallery openings. This week will be a quiet week as you settle into the second trimester with no exams or essays to worry about, just easing yourself back into the swing of things.

What better way to re-orientate yourself than to pop up to the Adam Art Gallery and check out an excellent ensemble exhibition of four contemporary artists. Four Times Painting features the work of Shane Cotton, Julian Daspher, Simon Ingram and Isobel Thom and is curated by Christina Barton, the new Director of the Adam Art Gallery.

Julian Daspher

When you walk past the gallery you should be able to notice that there is a drum kit set up in the front window with some yellow paint on it. Untitled (the painter’s mistake) 2007 is nothing new as installation pieces go but I really like it as it’s charming and minimalist. With the skins removed and splashings of yellow enamel it’s not clear what Daspher is saying specifically as he leaves it up to the observer to take make up their own mind about it. As someone who has grown up with pop music and mass media it managed to strike a chord. As Roger Horrocks notes in the catalogue for Four Times Painting, Daspher’s art is ‘like napkins, videos, or audio recordings, they remain present as evidence of a particular time and place.’ For me this was where the drummer and artist were present at different times. The kit is the drummer’s domain and the artist made a mistake by intruding and left their mark.

Speaking of time and place, the other works of Daspher were downstairs and kindly made available by Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington, Sue Crockford Gallery, Auckland and collection of Michael Lett, Auckland. Daspher likes to jump from time and place and one time in particular is represented in his ‘morphine’ paintings. All done in 2006 during a medical crisis they are blank canvases, with morphine and acrylic as the painting medium. Instead of doing what most artists throughout history have done (either getting pain relief or high on the drug) he used it to paint his pictures! Six of them are stacked vertically. They are abstract and full of meaning but still ambiguous enough for the viewer to glean from them what they like.

Shane Cotton

Shane Cotton, who has tribal affiliations to Ngati Rangi, Ngati Hine, Te Uri Taniwha and Nga Puhi, is a painter who seeks to reclaim the medium as an agent of remembrance. Known for re-presenting history’s remains he mines the cultural shards and fragments that have survived from the past which speak about the legacy and effects of our complex cross-cultural inheritance.

Walking in, you instantly feel like you have a mystical connection to Aoteroa’s past. In a dimly lit room there are three beautiful paintings illuminated by lights underneath each one. Play has a large blue-black coloured face covered in moku that simultaneously emerges from and merges back into a dark background. The letters P,L,A, and Y are rendered sketch-like on the face. At the bottom, below the birds flittering around, there are two common audio-visual tech symbols ‘select’ and ‘pause/play’. Deeply spiritual and disembodied these work speak volumes about this country’s wildlife, tikanga and post-colonial history while looking towards the future.

If you are new to maori art and culture and want to get a sense of this country’s zeitgeist throughout history and cross cultural referencing of more contemporary signs of modern western identity then you should definitely check out these works from Shane Cotton.

Simon Ingram

Aucklander Simon Ingram has set up machines to do his painting for him! Sophisticated frames surround large canvases where a robotic arm moves up and down painting on the canvas. Look closely and you will see that parts of the motors are made out of Lego! Purely modernist Ingram utilises Lego Technic parts with an arm that holds a brush and moves around the painting. Every now and then the brush rotates and dips into some white paint and rotates back and drags itself over the canvas to make brush marks.

These are connected to little computer packs on the floor and what I suspect to be motion sensors as the painting sometimes stops when you get too close. Although a computer program, with certain parameters, drives this machine art I am unsure whether Ingram knew what would eventuate. One thing I noticed immediately on the main work was that a huge space in the middle was still blank. You have until July 29 to go in and check for yourself if the robot has managed to get around to painting the rest of the painting.

If Ingram decides to go ahead with selling the machine paintings here it will be an interesting melding of the machine and man in the area of art. You never know with the art market what will be a fad or a flop, some will consider machine made art as a cynical arts marketing exercise. But Ingram is no flake, because as you will learn if you check out his work here that in the Automata Paintings the artist acts as a machine. Whereas before with the Painting Assemblages where the Lego Technic assembled robot tries to become a human artist, Ingram here seeks to meet in the middle by painting as a machine himself.

He achieved this by loading into his brain the rules of a computer game in order to prioritise the process. By following cellular automata, which is a form of computer science that mimics the evolution of life he has managed to create a grid template with vinyl on canvas.

Andy Warhol famously said in 1963, “I’d like to be a machine, wouldn’t you?” The closest Warhol ever came to becoming a machine was doing a computer portrait of Debbie Harry as part of the launch of the Commodore Amiga personal computer back in 1985. Ingram goes several better by turning himself into a machine and striving to humanise machines in the painting process.

Isobel Thom

Returning from an extended period living and working in New York, Isobel Thom is undertaking her Doctorate in Fine Arts at Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland.

Throughout her paintings she switches around time and the view of each recurring image. Self Portraits (2006) is a striking example with six images that immediately capture the eye with a cubist slant on perspective and inner personality. Like most cubism it is like there is an anchor of the purest form that doesn’t change but time, angles, light and perspective change. Instead of maybe some wrinkles or five o’clock shadow, we are left with blocky shading that can also suggest a change of mood.

Aesthetically these repetitive painting of objects also resemble the stop frames of film. An interesting thing Thom might want to consider is maybe collaborating with a film maker using rotoscope animation. Unlike the common examples of rotoscoping like Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and his Philip K Dick adaptation A Scanner Darkly she could instead experiment with more modernist techniques for example using Eisenstein (The Battleship Potemkin) and Fritz Lang (Metropolis) for inspiration.

But if film is not a medium that Thom is actually interested in then the physics and philosophy of time and forms are something that must be on her mind. If you thought cubism was redundant and there was no philosophy in the local contemporary arts scene then think again. Get along to Adam Art Gallery and take the opportunity to check out some fine meditations on the nature of painting.

Extra thanks must go to curator Christina Barton and Frances Loeffer at Adam Art Gallery and to Blair French, Roger Horrocks, Natasha Conland and Jan Bryant for writing an excellent catalogue for this exhibition.

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