The 80s Show

TURBULENCE: Garden Still Life (1981-1982) by Philip Clairmont features among paintings from the Fletcher Collection in The 80s Show at Tairawhiti Museum.
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In the early 1900s, imported artist Christopher Perkins introduced to New Zealand a hard-edged style of painting that fitted well with the quest for a regional identity.

By the 1970s, New Zealand artists (mostly European) included Brent Wong, who experimented with stark Pacific light and the stone-masonry of British buildings.

Paintings from the Fletcher Trust Collection that make up The 80s Show at Tairawhiti Museum point to a new fearlessness in the exploration of the New Zealand psyche. Two works at the entrance to the exhibition suggest a darkness, even menace, beneath the surface.

Dick Frizzell’s enamel-on-board work depicts a disproportionately muscled woodchopper, outlined with a black brushstroke, under a brooding sky. Cartoon-like speed lines are left in the wake of the axe as the blade bites into a wood block.

Adjacent to Frizzell’s Woodchopper is Michael Stevenson’s painting At The Showgrounds, Setting Up. In the foreground are hard-edged geometric forms (sans black outlines) of wooden ticket-sales cubicle, truck, caravan and tree trunks. With bush and tree canopies as a backdrop, a darkness hangs over the unpeopled scene.

Philip Clairmont’s large expressionistic work Garden Still Life depicts a view through a window into a swirling, turbulent garden, possibly at night. A cobalt blue sky is glimpsed between the violent blades of a plant in the top left window frame but there is little differentiation between exterior and domestic interior. The yellow window frame and kitchen table and chair are mixed up with the lysergic wilderness ostensibly outside.

Tellingly, in an unstable vase of flowers on the table is what appears to be a small circular mirror that reflects a distorted if not demonic face.

Clairmont took his life in 1984.

Other works, such as Max Gimblett’s optically unsettling but contemplative circular painting Blue/Red to Len Lye, explore minimalism and finely balanced blocks of colour.

More raw Kiwi existentialism is found in self-taught artist Jeffrey Harris’s 1984 work Renegotiating a Loan. The stencil-like figure of a woman in a jaffa orange dress, trapped against a livid yellow background, seems to have her stopped in her tracks as she covers her ears with her hands.

A Pacific lightness of being makes a reappearance in Gavin Chilcott’s abstract work with its almost cartoonish forms, Dead King (4), and Jan Nigro’s Pacific Festival with its colourful tents, umbrellas and palm trees.

The 80s Show, Tairawhiti Museum, until September 16.

In the early 1900s, imported artist Christopher Perkins introduced to New Zealand a hard-edged style of painting that fitted well with the quest for a regional identity.

By the 1970s, New Zealand artists (mostly European) included Brent Wong, who experimented with stark Pacific light and the stone-masonry of British buildings.

Paintings from the Fletcher Trust Collection that make up The 80s Show at Tairawhiti Museum point to a new fearlessness in the exploration of the New Zealand psyche. Two works at the entrance to the exhibition suggest a darkness, even menace, beneath the surface.

Dick Frizzell’s enamel-on-board work depicts a disproportionately muscled woodchopper, outlined with a black brushstroke, under a brooding sky. Cartoon-like speed lines are left in the wake of the axe as the blade bites into a wood block.

Adjacent to Frizzell’s Woodchopper is Michael Stevenson’s painting At The Showgrounds, Setting Up. In the foreground are hard-edged geometric forms (sans black outlines) of wooden ticket-sales cubicle, truck, caravan and tree trunks. With bush and tree canopies as a backdrop, a darkness hangs over the unpeopled scene.

Philip Clairmont’s large expressionistic work Garden Still Life depicts a view through a window into a swirling, turbulent garden, possibly at night. A cobalt blue sky is glimpsed between the violent blades of a plant in the top left window frame but there is little differentiation between exterior and domestic interior. The yellow window frame and kitchen table and chair are mixed up with the lysergic wilderness ostensibly outside.

Tellingly, in an unstable vase of flowers on the table is what appears to be a small circular mirror that reflects a distorted if not demonic face.

Clairmont took his life in 1984.

Other works, such as Max Gimblett’s optically unsettling but contemplative circular painting Blue/Red to Len Lye, explore minimalism and finely balanced blocks of colour.

More raw Kiwi existentialism is found in self-taught artist Jeffrey Harris’s 1984 work Renegotiating a Loan. The stencil-like figure of a woman in a jaffa orange dress, trapped against a livid yellow background, seems to have her stopped in her tracks as she covers her ears with her hands.

A Pacific lightness of being makes a reappearance in Gavin Chilcott’s abstract work with its almost cartoonish forms, Dead King (4), and Jan Nigro’s Pacific Festival with its colourful tents, umbrellas and palm trees.

The 80s Show, Tairawhiti Museum, until September 16.

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