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In this week's Art Seen, Robyn Pickens looks at exhibitions from Patric Tomkins, Blue Oyster, and Layne Waerea.
Patric Tomkins' second exhibition at Brett McDowell is a mature and assured suite of paintings based on the grid and layered canvases. Even within this suite of nine new paintings Tomkins demonstrates an openness to self-reflexively examine the formalist bones (grid, layered canvases) that he has worked with over this twelve-month period.
And Tomkins' methodological approach of naming paintings in starkly chronological terms (The First Painting, The Second Painting) allows the viewer to track his development from a single ''window'' painting comprising layered canvases that recede through beige, grey, brown, green, rust in The First Painting, to multiple windows that form a grid (The Second Painting), before ultimately returning to one window built out of 21 layers of canvas that are almost obscured by a heavy, dark, navy blue (The Ninth Painting).
While the single window paintings built from layered canvases create a three-dimensional surface, Tomkins amplifies this effect when he multiplies the window to form a grid. In The Sixth Painting, for example, four separate canvases are sewn together not on the reverse of the painting, but on the front.
The joining of the canvases is turned from function to formal feature, with the taut, crimped canvas edges forming a three-dimensional cross that juts outwards. Tomkins' sophisticated juxtaposition of colour - applied for the most part in scuffed paintwork - complements his explorations of canonical abstract painting.
''My heart is all rock, all rock, and no good thing will grow upon it. The lizard and the snail run over the rocks, and all evil runs over my heart.'' This excerpt from Wariki to Mr Clarke and the Rev. W. Yate appears on one of four large reproductions of an early colonial text printed on muslin and exhibited on opposite sides of Blue Oyster's rear gallery.
The excerpt exemplifies the mamae or pain that lies at the heart of Bronte Perry's compelling installation as hapu and iwi from Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) encountered the proselytising of missionaries in the early days of colonisation. In between the textual reproductions on either side of the gallery three large, white, muslin sheets hang suspended from the ceiling on slender, diagonally overlapping branches that act as struts.
The loose triangular form of the sheets makes them fluid enough to simultaneously evoke shrouds, flags, and the walls of houses. Each of the three multivalent forms is imprinted with different imagery that encapsulates the missionisation of Aotearoa: Jesus on the cross, the words Rongo Pai (the good news), and a cluster of rocks that perhaps reference Wariki's broken heart.
Perry uses simple forms to carry succinct iconography and maximises the small space to create a suitably claustrophobic encounter that successfully conveys a complex and painful history that has ongoing ramifications.
Although not Symonds St, Auckland - where the event and its filming took place - the experience of watching Maori Lane (2012) as cars zip past on Moray Place is a thoughtful piece of curating on the part of DPAG's Rear Window curator.
The film by Layne Waerea, which was shot with an iPhone strapped to her body, shows the artist weaving back and forth between Symonds St and the footpath avoiding traffic as she tapes stencils in place and chalks in white letters Maori Lane on a lane in Symonds St.
As with other street signage, such as Bus Lane, the two words are staggered with, in the case of Waerea's work, Maori in large, white, capital letters followed by Lane.
A first, instantly accessible reading of the work is less a call for increased attention to Maori rights but more of an instantiation, however performative, of Maori presence and visibility. That is, the filmed action is not asking, it has performatively brought into being, in this case, a Maori (road) lane.
At first encounter this reading is appropriate but not entirely accurate, and this is perhaps a side effect of viewing only one aspect of an originally larger project.
Maori Lane was originally part of an exhibition on the subject of Maori rights to fresh water, which indeed the information plaque explains. Maori Lane is an evocative work that inspires further research.