The activities denoted by the words ‘occupy’, ‘demonstrate’ and ‘confront’ are all indicative of the painful processes through which social, cultural, political and even personal change occurs. This process is often contested with the use of violence – often even to the point of death. Human resistance to change and to the acceptance of others as an analogue of self is entrenched, at the same time as it is untenable, within modern capitalist democracies. Or is it that it is the capitalist democracy that entrenches the resistance to change? In any event this site of confrontation between aspiration and the establishment is increasingly the point of focus in a global contest of ideas. If painting is to take its place as being ‘about‘ things, I can think of no more fascinating place to gaze upon.
For my PhD exhibition in 2011 26 paintings from the series Pictures of the Body were shown spaced, in a single line at eye height around a slightly irregularly shaped gallery. They were also exhibited as a large grid with no gap between them using 45 paintings at Aratoi the public gallery in Masterton. These images taken from news media accounts of conflict between protestors and police from all over the world. I was impressed with the universality, in all of these locations, of the armour worn by the agents of the state and the relatively naked vulnerability of the protestors even though violence was initiated by both sides. The aim of my PhD research was to examine the ways in which art can expose the viewer to experiences that contribute to the viewers understanding of themselves and their world. I started from the premise that painting is a mode of communication but that many paintings merely try to impose the artist’s fixed view. Unfortunately this does not assist the viewer in their independent understanding and contributes to the tendency that encourages ways of looking to become commodified as fashion. The aim of my research was to present work that represented media images in the fictional mode of painting as neutrally as possible. That is, without the conspicuous presence of the ‘artistic virtuosity’ that codes art as a special priviledged voice. My painting method was designed to try to provide imagery that could activate the viewers own imagination, experience and empathy without imposing the ‘artist’s view’. Since experience is only ever gained through the ‘work’ of understanding I ask the viewer to first construct the scene from a minimum of visual information. The work of
This period explored crisis events usually with a restricted range of colour so that the narrative was conveyed in as understated way as possible. It was at this time I moved from the ‘Richter blurr’ to what I call the ‘optical blurr’. Although there are clear divisions between blocks of colour the eye is still required – especially at close range to make interpretive decisions.
Sports and their crowds are a milder version of the same subject matter as the demonstrator / police paintings. They both place the viewer as an observer of intense physical action between two groups. In the paintings of the sporting audience the viewer is observing the observer. In the paintings of crowds the viewer is (almost) observing themselves as part of the ubiquitous ‘crowd’. The two rugby paintings were sourced from news photos of a wild brawl that took over both schoolboy teams in Auckland in 2011. This fight was the occasion for the expression of a huge range of reactions both amongst the participants – either fighting or trying to break it up – and amongst commentators. In any event it did raise questions about the nature of sport and our interaction with others. The explosive utterances of victory or failure in sporting confrontations are well tolerated as natural by their audiences but the gladiatorial nature of many of these confrontations, and the investment of both the participants and spectators in the outcome incorporates a fascinating enigma. Quite apart from this subtext, the magnificent physicality of the sporting arena is a joyful celebration and expression of human capacity. The easy prone relaxation of the crowds on the bank at a test match at the Basin Reserve has to be considered in relation to the tension of the contest taking place in the middle.