Mark Amery – 28 September, 2010
The second series of works here are smaller, black in base and not backlit, reminiscent of embroidered pew kneeling cushions in church. The paint is pushed through tapestry canvas into tiny square containers to make up rose designs, a reference to her English side and her recently passed father. Yet they also in colour and energy recall taniko weaving. Here it is as if Larkin's dual cultural past has been unwoven and rewired. Presenting a kind of pixellated pointillism, these works are less successful. The paint's appearance is uneven and less controlled and they can resemble the tatty pinpricked backs of tapestry.
Woven In_Pixelled Out
7 September - 2 October 2010
In Warwick Brown’s book Seen this Century Peata Larkin’s paintings are described as “art with international appeal, using the well-proven grid format, yet with a firm base in pre-European design concepts.” The work is distilled to a commercial recipe, like the blurb on the back of a wine bottle.
Larkin is further in danger of being taken as formulaic because on first glance she is so clearly part of a now prevalent Maori contemporary practice of working aesthetically through variations on the tukutuku template, employing new materials and technologies. New Zealand artists continue to find dynamic conceptual layers for geometric abstraction in this regard. The new net goes fishing, as the whakatauki goes.
In reproduction Larkin’s work can easily be flattened by such general contextualisations. Indeed, the reproductions here do not do this lively painterly work justice. In their presence there are far fresher and more uncomfortable things going on.
As the wharenui is a body, these panels almost seem in their pink and white moments to ooze flesh from their interior, or at other times a syrup concentrate of the ocean. They are not conventionally pretty or formally tidy, even when inspired by rose patterns derived from tapestry and blackwork (a type of Tudor embroidery with black thread on white). Larkin’s practice is an adventurous fluid space between cultural and design traditions, personal and shared stories. They crackle and weep with the interior energy and wiring of things.
The strongest works in this Bartley and Company show (her first in Wellington) are easily the four lightbox works. These are not as you might expect from reproductions photographic prints. Instead, lit from behind, acrylic gel paint is pushed through the small square holes in white painted mesh by injection. In other places the holes are simply punched out to create through the fabric luminous pixellated trails, twinkling like tower blocks of city lights.
When these lightboxes are lit, the carefully composed small cloud-like spectrums of bright coloured paint are reminiscent of stained glass or even in their palette old garden watercolour paintings (take for instance the stand-out Tuhourangi Blues 2). The light-filled palette evokes impressionism. They are gemlike in their colour. And like both gemstones and light meters, they suggest change in power charge and volume through change in colour.
What is also distinctive about these light boxes is that they take on a whole different feel when turned off. The jewel-like bands of pushed-through paint become more solid in form, and the white punched out paper around them become reminiscent of doilies, or computer cards recording binary code zeroes and ones.
In such ways Larkin’s work alludes to the microcosmic composition of communication in the world, both bodily and electronically. There is the sense of the works as symbol of the retained knowledge of a community that is held in their heads between them - the digital static of layers of resident memory, and the colour-coded structures of DNA models. In the overlap of embroidery, painting and light transmission there is the sense of different codes interacting - of an ecosystem bubbling away.
The patterns reference the traditions of both Maori and Pakeha sides of Larkin’s heritage. The tukutuku pattern Poutama (Stairway to Heaven) is found throughout the lightboxes. Larkin notes it refers in folklore to the ascension to obtain the three baskets of knowledge, symbolic of the growth of man, striving upwards. This suits the work’s constant push technically forward, and play with illuminating and activating different physical layers. While the ladder of built up painted forms suggest going forward, the white cut out squares suggest that journey is based on letting the past light the way.
The crucifix symbol in these works marks them as lit icons of faith to live by, and neatly allude to the church base of a bicultural craft design heritage in New Zealand. They also reference Larkin’s Tuhourangi ancestors, who were pre-Tarawera eruption guardians of the Pink and White Terraces. This is a very personal reference, but the pink and white colours that ooze through the exhibition are distinctive markers of place, and in their colour-coding mark a bicultural heritage
Larkin doesn’t just push the paint through to the surface, she also delicately injects new colours into the top. How colour operates in pattern as a kind of abstract morse code is a strong element of the work.
The second series of works here are smaller, black in base and not backlit, reminiscent of embroidered pew kneeling cushions in church. The paint is pushed through tapestry canvas into tiny square containers to make up rose designs, a reference to her English side and her recently passed father. Yet they also in colour and energy recall taniko weaving. Here it is as if Larkin‘s dual cultural past has been unwoven and rewired. Presenting a kind of pixellated pointillism, these works are less successful. The paint’s appearance is uneven and less controlled and they can resemble the tatty pinpricked backs of tapestry.
There is in the lightboxes a strong unifying movement and rhythm through the tukutuku patterns, of energy being charged up within. The rose pattern works by comparison are frozen in gloss, each pixel separated like pinpricks from the next. Again the colour design is interesting but they lack in structure the same energy and tension of the lightboxes.
These smaller works are interesting technically in terms of their experimentation with paint, but they are less convincing final works. Yet what Larkin’s bold play with material suggests is that there is even more gutsy work to come.
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