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Examining Drawing

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James R. Ford, Baked Snake Pie Piled High Work by A. D. Schierning Paul Paul, Terry Bogard Xu Jun Bang, Pulse Toby Huddlestone, Another Proposal (Parrot) Work by Zina Swanston

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.

Warren Feeney

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This Discussion has 5 comments.


Cynthia Bongolaire, 10:41 a.m. 13 July, 2011

This review seems a bit ambiguous to me. I can't tell if Feeney was impressed by the works or not. Obviously he thinks the show doesn't work curatorially but the last sentence left me unsure as to whether he was a fan of the artists' work on show or not...

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John Hurrell, 11:02 a.m. 13 July, 2011

I wonder if I can say something about reviewing - as what Cynthia says about Warren here has sometimes been said about me.

I think often a review emphasises the viewer/writer's ambivalences and that this is good. Writers often don't know what they are going to say until the text is finished, and why should it be decisively for or against the exhibition anyway? To be able to dissect one's feelings and thoughts about a show is the point: to elucidate about the blessings and irritations that the work generates in the visitor in the hope that the reader might empathise.

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Cynthia Bongolaire, 11:09 a.m. 13 July, 2011

I think your points are valid John. I suppose it's because I'm a straight shooter that ambivalance can cause me confusion. Another thing that I find weird in this review is that the apparent key work in the show isn't the main image, and the main image (James R Ford) is only given a one sentence description. And Swanson's work (maybe the most well known artist in the shown) isn't given more than a mere mention...

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John Hurrell, 11:53 a.m. 13 July, 2011

Ah well as Editor I can explain that. I pick and place the images and some are more striking than others. Have more immediate impact. Often it is to do with the wee quote I insert too at the top.

Basically the writer sends the text and somebody else sends the images and I put the two together.

 In reply

Cynthia Bongolaire, 11:55 a.m. 13 July, 2011

Ah I see. I'm new to the site but love it! In that case I understand your choice of images! :)

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