Ko Ahau

This is Me.

This is Me.

KAPAI: Don’t Stress (Everything Will Be Kapai) by Walter Dewes. Picture supplied

A ripped canvas that features part of a feather crown and a mad staring eye above the tear will be included in Gisborne artist Walter Dewes’ exhibition Ko Ahau - This is Me.

The work had been a gift to a family-member but was torn after another fallout and dumped at Dewes’ door. The painting will nevertheless be part of Dewes’ exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum. Originally titled Whanau, the torn artwork is a statement about the damage done by crack use on the East Coast, says Dewes. Sadly, the work is now called The Effects of Drugs on Whanau, and is not for sale.

The seriousness of such a statement that is both intensely personal and political is belied by the colourfully controlled chaos in Dewes’ paintings. Dewes’ distinctively Maori-based work is largely made up of truncated, ragged, black outlined lines and recurrent motifs.

“I love to paint abstract faces/masks, which represent feelings/tipuna/whanau, hidden in these are different symbols like birds, kowhaiwhai, feathers, leaves, all sorts of elements — which all have meaning,” he says in his exhibition notes.

His paintings recall the restless, almost cartoonish style of the Mambo art movement of the mid-1980s. Also, the black-outlined pipe forms and energy wriggles of Keith Haring’s graffiti-like pop art.

“I always liked graffiti but I’ve never been a street artist,” says Dewes.

“And I hate straight lines. I try to put something different in it. I think ‘what sort of art would I like to buy?’ I paint what appeals to me.”

Included in Ko Ahau are works from Dewes’ Slave to the System series.

The work Just Another Number borders on abstraction. Elements such as a tewhatewha (long-handled Maori club), arterial cactus-trunk forms, droplet spurts, blunt thorns, stitches and clips are so disparate the face/mask form threatens to disintegrate completely.

The Ruatoria-born artist also paints murals on the walls of his home. Among them is a tribute to his mother who tragically died in a car crash 25 years ago. The heart and banner reflect a contemporary tattoo style.

Ko Ahau - This is Me follows Dewes’ 2016 exhibition, Home Is Where the Heart Is.

“This is about my life at the moment and what’s important to me – family and friends,” says the artist.

“It’s the next step from the 2016 exhibition.”

The passage of time, and having his own children has enabled him to be more optimistic and open to exploring more positive themes than he used to focus on, he told the Guide three years ago.

Don’t Stress (Everything Will Be Kapai) obviously draws on American musician Bobby McFerrin’s interminably sunny 1988 hit, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Dewes gives the theme a comically, near-violent spin. A warty, arrow-pierced heart sits where the face’s tongue should be while the rest near-explodes with primary colours, valves and squiggles. Ironically, the only thing that holds it together is the tension that threatens to blow it apart.

“A lot of things in these works are of my personal issues,” says Dewes.

“But I know I have a healthy network of friends to talk to. Just realise good times are going to happen again. Just realise it’s normal.”

  • Ko Ahau - This is Me - Walter Dewes, Tairawhiti Museum, July 20-September 15.

A ripped canvas that features part of a feather crown and a mad staring eye above the tear will be included in Gisborne artist Walter Dewes’ exhibition Ko Ahau - This is Me.

The work had been a gift to a family-member but was torn after another fallout and dumped at Dewes’ door. The painting will nevertheless be part of Dewes’ exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum. Originally titled Whanau, the torn artwork is a statement about the damage done by crack use on the East Coast, says Dewes. Sadly, the work is now called The Effects of Drugs on Whanau, and is not for sale.

The seriousness of such a statement that is both intensely personal and political is belied by the colourfully controlled chaos in Dewes’ paintings. Dewes’ distinctively Maori-based work is largely made up of truncated, ragged, black outlined lines and recurrent motifs.

“I love to paint abstract faces/masks, which represent feelings/tipuna/whanau, hidden in these are different symbols like birds, kowhaiwhai, feathers, leaves, all sorts of elements — which all have meaning,” he says in his exhibition notes.

His paintings recall the restless, almost cartoonish style of the Mambo art movement of the mid-1980s. Also, the black-outlined pipe forms and energy wriggles of Keith Haring’s graffiti-like pop art.

“I always liked graffiti but I’ve never been a street artist,” says Dewes.

“And I hate straight lines. I try to put something different in it. I think ‘what sort of art would I like to buy?’ I paint what appeals to me.”

Included in Ko Ahau are works from Dewes’ Slave to the System series.

The work Just Another Number borders on abstraction. Elements such as a tewhatewha (long-handled Maori club), arterial cactus-trunk forms, droplet spurts, blunt thorns, stitches and clips are so disparate the face/mask form threatens to disintegrate completely.

The Ruatoria-born artist also paints murals on the walls of his home. Among them is a tribute to his mother who tragically died in a car crash 25 years ago. The heart and banner reflect a contemporary tattoo style.

Ko Ahau - This is Me follows Dewes’ 2016 exhibition, Home Is Where the Heart Is.

“This is about my life at the moment and what’s important to me – family and friends,” says the artist.

“It’s the next step from the 2016 exhibition.”

The passage of time, and having his own children has enabled him to be more optimistic and open to exploring more positive themes than he used to focus on, he told the Guide three years ago.

Don’t Stress (Everything Will Be Kapai) obviously draws on American musician Bobby McFerrin’s interminably sunny 1988 hit, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Dewes gives the theme a comically, near-violent spin. A warty, arrow-pierced heart sits where the face’s tongue should be while the rest near-explodes with primary colours, valves and squiggles. Ironically, the only thing that holds it together is the tension that threatens to blow it apart.

“A lot of things in these works are of my personal issues,” says Dewes.

“But I know I have a healthy network of friends to talk to. Just realise good times are going to happen again. Just realise it’s normal.”

  • Ko Ahau - This is Me - Walter Dewes, Tairawhiti Museum, July 20-September 15.
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