A Response to unpainted Written by Amiria Puia-Taylor

Tūrei 23 Hepetema

Tuesday 23 September


Upon entering the gallery, Christchurch based artist Helen Calder’s drooping paint installations red, red, red. red. (2014) are the first works to greet me with flushes of lively red plasticised paint splats. While three of the paint sculptures are strung up from the ceiling using black spaghetti-like rubber draw strings, one work sits on the gallery floor, as though it has fallen—cascaded into a pile with the draw string hanging loose from its ceiling hook. The natural daylight from the street front window projects dimensionality on each of Calder’s works revealing the tiny textures in the hardened body of red paints with waving shapes forming from the tight tangles of rubber.

Diagonally opposite Calder’s works lean two large scale wood board paintings Reading Room (2014) by local emerging painter James Bellaney. Enlivening the white walls and wooden floors of the gallery space, Bellaney resuscitates colour in layers of abstract fusions of canary yellow with hints of magenta and tangaroa blue. Thick splashes of dark purple mix in and break through from beneath. Both panels stand portrait and side by side with a slight space between, helping each piece stand individually. They are over two metres high, giving the colours depth and movement as well as a chance to react to one another and the other works in the exhibition. Bellaney’s works have the energy and fluidity of awa, waterways, and his nature as an artist is reflected these gestures.

Mounted on the opposite walls from Bellaney’s works are a series of four mixed media works by Auckland based artist Fu-On Chung. Three of these small works from left to right: Tottering Conundrum, Piston Dreamwreck and Untitled (all 2014) take over one entire wall, while the fourth work Misty-eyed Dancefloor (2014) is placed perpendicularly, tying two intersecting walls into a conversation of navigation and figuration. Chung’s use of neon within each work aligns with Calder’s lustrous, sculptural reds; his painterly application is more controlled in contrast to Bellaney’s method of an anti-autonomous mixing of colour. The way Chung has wrapped two of his works in clear plastic with bright green packing tape generates a playful and inquisitive element to his work, perhaps using painting as an exploration of shape and form in a similar fashion to Calder. Chung appears interested in the idea of excess and layering, breaking down and picking away at the boundaries of structure, restraint and how painting is perceived. This challenges my ‘learned’ ideas of what painting is and should look like.

Moving away from the painted works in the main space, I can hear Kim Pieters’ work before I find it. A slow dragged out organ-acoustic hum or call escapes through the edges of a closed door. Entering the space reveals flashes of yellow, gold and black moving across the back wall. Flame (2007) is an optical exploration of Dunedin’s First Church steeple calling on painterly light, sound and colour. This distracts me from the subjective qualities of the church and I see it more as a painted shape within the scene. Flame creates a trance-like soundscape and the blurred imagery illuminates soft specks of light evolving into brighter blazes of colour as the poem ‘Flame’ by Jeanne Bernhardt leads me to the film’s end. Pieters’ work transforms the way I understand painting as a practice. It is not simply the traditional ideas of what paint can offer, it is about seeing what paint can be through exploring colour in other mediums. 

As curator of unpainted, MA candidate Briar Holt brought together these four artists in an even manifestation: two women and two men to exhibit works that experiment with the application of paint beyond its traditional use. In this way, each artist brings their own take on painting through explorations within their own practice. Holt compliments this symmetry with the parallels of emerging with established, two dimensionality with three dimensionality, visual with audio. It is refreshing for me as a painter and for the Blue Oyster community to see these explorations of paint take over the gallery spaces—to see painting stripped or interpreted into something new or perhaps re-newed. The inclusion of sound and poetry as a third dimension opens up the way that I understand paint to be, which is what makes this exhibition valuable to the Dunedin audience, allowing those who are paint-enthused the opportunity to get excited, or those who employ paint within a wider contemporary practice to be inspired by these artists.

Holt’s decision to create a balance of gender, experience and location offers the artists the opportunity to display their own examinations of painting without forced premise or contrived theme. unpainted has created a platform for a creative community environment to be inclusive and transparent through the consideration of each artist’s practice as individual and complimentary. 

Amiria Puia-Taylor