Warren Feeney – 13 July, 2011
Airline seems fractured and curious in its commentary on drawing practice, rather than devised with the empathy that a thematic group show generally demands.
Xu Jun Bang, Ali Bramwell, James R. Ford, Marcel Grosse, Toby Huddlestone, Paul Paul, A.D. Scheirning, Zina Swanson, Telly Tu’u
Airline: An International Drawing Show
2 July - 16 July 2011
In its references to international travel and taking a line for a walk, Airline is a title that is too good to ignore for a drawing exhibition. Airline features work by five artists based in New Zealand, two expatriates and artists from the United Kingdom, Germany and China, yet it seems modest in its ambitions in comparison to its title.
It also encompasses a diverse group of works and practices, ranging from an interest in drawing as a testing of ideas (Zina Swanson and Xu Jun Bang), an acknowledgment of drawing’s potential through alternative media and materials (Paul Paul and A. D. Schierning), and a questioning of the very notion of drawing as task-master and an important aspect of arts practice (Toby Huddlestone).
It’s an ambitious curatorial task to unite such broad considerations and to give them good reason to all be in the same room together. For these reasons, Airline seems fractured and curious in its commentary on drawing practice, rather than devised with the empathy that a thematic group show generally demands. Its strength resides more in a consideration of individual responses to the show’s title.
So what are the highlights? A pen and ink work on paper by London-based Toby Huddlestone, Another Proposal (Parrot) has all the wit, charm and intelligence to virtually halt Airline’s good intentions in its tracks. Huddlestone’s sketch of a parrot with the colours for sections of its plumage written alongside to remind the artist how to finish the painting, and an accompanying note about teaching a parrot to say ‘repetition’ gleefully crucifies the virtues of traditional Renaissance drawing methods - The grand traditions of the fine arts as mundane and wearying task-master. It is Airline’s finest curatorial moment, placed next to Nanjing artist Xu Jun Bang’s Pulse, a traditional landscape drawing that reveals the contours, mass and volume of the land in pure black line. The juxtaposition of conceptual practice against the method and materials of more traditional perceptions about drawing may appear to set the merits of both artists’ work against one another, yet somehow, they equally seem so right together.
Wellington-based artist James R. Ford’s Baked Snake Pie Piled High is similarly sharp - A kind of coloured, concrete poem that loops elegantly in Celtic formation around the surface of the picture plane carrying the repeated phrasing of its title. Paul Paul’s Terry Bogard is, however, the key work in Airline. An animated print that is ideologically a drawing, sitting somewhere between resolved work of art and work in progress. It’s an image that demands recognition as belonging to a grander and more expansive series of works, acting as the single drawing in Airline that makes you wish for the bigger picture of the artist’s practice.
Terry Bogard is also the kind of work that you always hoped would be on the walls of Christchurch’s previous public gallery, the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in the Cranleigh Barton Drawing Award in the 1990s. Officially described as an award that recognised ‘excellence in drawing’ many of the selected finalists’ works too frequently equated ‘excellence’ with a highly finished and framed art work apparently completed to be placed in an art competition. To their credit, the artists in Airline have other notions of excellence on their minds but as a show whose title implies an unbridled enthusiasm for the act and art of drawing, Airline didn’t quite take full flight.
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