Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 32, No. 16. July 16, 1969
Art — Five Plus One
Five Plus One
The present Academy showing at the National Art Gallery is admittedly a step forward in administration policy. To see the work of well known contemporary New Zealand artists in one of the traditional strongholds of conservatism is something which is pleasing to behold. It can only be hoped that the Academy will become a centre of all good art rather than over again any particular representational section.
This present exhibition chooses established artists to make a safe start to what turned out to be a somewhat minor overture. All five artists have merit, all are competent, but favourable first impressions often turned out less exciting on further study and one had to search hard to find the particular best in each artist.
Melvin Day, present director of the National Art Gallery, had a large number of similar paintings, some of questionable merit. He uses heavy impasto effects, and amber brown stencilled lettering similar to Cubist technique. But this supposedly mystery of symbols, the questioning of reality, is never properly explained by what in fact Mr Day does on his canvas. For example, he calls one set of paintings the Utrillo series and then deliberately seems to challenge Utrillo's employment of perspective by his own deliberate lack of perspective. The paintings are brought up to and out of the picture plane with Day's use of almost scatological impasto. Sometimes the effect is sinister or imposing but often the effect is negative—no effect.
Day uses massive vertical, horizontal and circular lines. Some of his pictures contain small diagrammatic line drawings, reminiscent of the Renaissance artists which Day seems to intend satirical suggestion of ideal proportion. Melvin Day is a fluent painter and has, within his narrow range of hues and forms, style and obvious control.
John Drawbridge is attempting, I believe, a personal exploration away from the academic. Traces of Drawbridges graphic stability of form remain in his abstracts but his departures are in the use of optical effects and in very large paintings with perspective shifts of figure and ground.
In his use of colour he is playing with bold complementaries and vivid effects. His use of a bright irredescent spot in "Two Circles" heightens the picture while the imposition of stark white circles and lines in "Meridian" is disturbing and distracts from some of the fine painting throughout much of this picture.
The effect of Drawbridge's work ranges from static to pleasant to startlingly exciting. His design skill is beyond question and influence of minimal art brings out the essential gracefulness of his work. Although the size of many of the paintings is probably not justified, this exploratory period is possibly necessary to Drawbridge so that he may settle down to new development encompassing both new knowledge and the existing subtlety of his graphic work.
The paintings of Patrick Hartley are lively and original. They portray the underlying molecular unity or reality. Where the plasticity is denied the predominant forms are broken through with expressionistic splashes and splatters of paint, often meticulously applied. Such a picture as "Love Scene", depicting a set of lovers and a mystical third person, combines successfully decorative and plastic effects.
Hanley's use of colour is most startling and shows the influence of the psychedelic. He is perhaps the most original of the younger painters and tends to show the fallacy in the Roy Cowen Regional/International breakdown used to introduce this exhibition.
The effect of Hanley's work is to marvel at his magical transparent forms which seem to exist without substancy elements in space. His lovers are as transitory as the seasons in his gardens.
Ralph Hotere is a painter who moves ahead of his critics, so that just as one comes to terms with a series, he develops to an extreme beyond the last extreme. Although he produces the unexpected, the old elements remain; the Christian martyrdom, the Trinity, the Maori vitality and dark mysticism.
Hotere has pruned everything back to surely the last severely. He invites us to look into black, examine its quality, its depth, its meaning. In the Black Series of paintings he uses three vertical lines whose spectra-colours change and alternate in their combination through the series, reaching depths and re-emerging with revival, resurrection perhaps. At the same time, the blackness seems like an indictment and the graded lines of light that lead us up to the seventh painting also lead back to the first: the system is closed and irrevocable.
The same spectra-colours are repeated in the Zero Series, each monochrome requiring hard close looking at to find and relate forms.
Don Peebles, the fifth member of this exhibition, has two types of his works on display. His wall-mounted constructions, where in some cases shadow effects have importance are not brought out with studio lighting and are still too reminiscent of the work of Victor Passmore to be wholly effective.
His paintings use optical effects from the pyschological laboratory and his diagonal symmetry, employed also by Don Driver, another sculptor who use paintings as a subsidiary to sculptures, have insufficient force to stand on their own or make spatial suggestions. The best of them is perhaps "Linear Series No. 17" which shows some measure of success.
In fact Peebles' relief or sculpture is to be preferred although again much of the work seems to lack confidence and the assertion of a distinct personality. No. 59, a wood construction on a contrasting brown hyloplate backing is perhaps the most successful.
This exhibition is worth considering at length because the artists are serious in their intention and for the most part talented within their particular styles. On a breakdown of the exhibits the work is not of as high a quality or as adventurous as might be desired but the earnest intent is there, the competence, the talent and the effort.
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Wong Sing Tai, 19, has a one man exhibition of five pictures on show at the university library. These paintings are said to be illustrative of the artists' development over the last four years. Certainly his diversity is to be encouraged but at the same time it is clear that Wong Sing Tai has made none of the styles his own and his hesitancy becomes obvious in his work.
His pictures "Timetable" ("Time Ate") and "Untitled One", similar in style to his winning entry in the Benson & Hedges Award lack the sharpness and confidence which showed accompany such a style.
"22 Zig Zag" seems to suffer rather badly from cracking which I'm sure is not copied from the original cigarette paper advertisement. Again, pop-art technique must be if anything over-bright and overconfident. Wong's design and colour are bold, but the picture does not have the impact it should. "Magician", again reliant on design, is attractive though curiously empty in content.
Wong Sing Tai's most competent picture "Number Five" is well painted and delicately balanced with intelligent use of colour and area. His paintings are somewhat disappointing and it is hoped after this period of exploration Wong can employ his obvious talent for colour and design in a more imaginative individual style.