Sophie Violet Gilmore – 19 January, 2014
The word “retrospective” usually signals a sweeping (or worse, nostalgic) look back over an artist's career, with the looming implication of retirement. This was not the case with Hewson. Instead, the energy and versatility of the recent works suggested his best art is yet to come. The exhibition ultimately functioned as a tantalising prelude to the future.
Stud Flight - A Retrospective of New Work 2010-2013
26 November - 20 December 2013
Recently the Blue Oyster Gallery relocated to Dowling Street, an area that seems to be fast developing into the centre of art in Dunedin, hosting a glorious variety of galleries and artist studios and other creative miscellany in the gritty yet chic remains of warehouses and factories. This setting was embellished by the presence of Mike Hewson’s Stud Flight, an ironically self-proclaimed “retrospective of new work”.
The three year period which the “retrospective” focused on, from 2010 to 2013 (with the addition of some earlier works), reflected on a seminal period in this fascinating artist’s career. This was a particularly significant period as Hewson was previously based in Christchurch. His studio, which featured prominently in the photographs included in the exhibition, was located in the Red Zone and rendered completely inaccessible after the carnage of the 2011 earthquake.
It is possible to view this forcible removal from the studio as a catalyst for creative transformation. Transition and change were major themes in the exhibition, which charted the way Hewson had adapted to the differing demands of exhibiting in the public sphere and the private gallery. The works presented in the exhibition were so diverse it became almost impossible to believe they were created by the same artist. Not only in terms of changes in medium - from painting to installation and various things in between - but a drastic transformation of personality. One room alone combined a selection of technically pleasant but innocuous landscape paintings, including Lindis, 2003, the sort which can be found in every waiting-room in New Zealand, with Deconstruction (reconstructed),2013, a huge “paste-up” digital print on vinyl, originally adhered to the exterior of a building in Christchurch.
Throughout the exhibition, Hewson seemed to frequently change his mind, or be totally undecided, about what he wanted to achieve (the frustration and lack of conviction which surrounded some of his paintings testified to this). However, in the more recent works, an electrifying sense of confidence and certainty was apparent. The installation pieces, particularly the monumental Norwich Building, 2013, (but also O, 2013 which in this exhibition at least, operated in a more subtle way) were admired purely for their forceful, even disorientating physical presence, and their dynamic interaction with the gallery space. On the other hand, the viewer also became swept up in the theoretical puzzle they presented, and Hewson’s ingenuity and wit.
Norwich Building was an arresting piece, a sort of meta-artwork which Hewson created specifically for the space by taking a photograph of the view from the galleries’ immense front window (the Norwich Building is a prominent feature of this view). This image was replicated at the same scale on vinyl, yet the finished structure was skewed to occupy the room obliquely, being precariously held up by a beam wrapped in bubble wrap. It was disconcerting to see a replication of a window, the strange, transparent barrier between one space and another, right next to the original object itself. Even more upsetting was the fact that the back of the vinyl was left bare, the raw appearance of the artworks wooden-structure being somewhat unexpected.
The metaphor of a “window” is often used to describe the documentary truth of photographs; the idea of the image as a window onto reality. The multilayered metaphor Hewson created (humorously) questioned this perceived transparency. This was but one of the multitude of ideas which the artwork suggested.
O, 2013 sat silently in the corner behind Norwich Building. It consisted of a large sheet of adhesive vinyl stuck onto monoflex, rolled up so the image printed on it was mysteriously unseen. O was created as a façade for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney during its renovation to cover scaffolding, and is perhaps Hewson’s most ambitious work to date. When rolled out, the words “It Holds Up” would appear as if cut out from the building it was originally displayed on. In O, Hewson contemplated art, or indeed any image, as an act of concealment rather than revelation. The idea of transparency as illusion connected this work to Norwich Building, suggesting an ongoing and fruitful preoccupation. The purpose of the scales on which the vinyl-roll sat perhaps related to the ‘scaling down’ of the originally massive artwork, necessitated by the limitations of the gallery.
What I really appreciated about the exhibition was the way in which complicated conceptual interrogations were punctuated with knowing moments of humour. One particular photograph, Reading the Wall, 2010 brought this to light. In the image, Hewson’s father stood in the alien environment of the artist’s former studio, displaying a profound mixture of feelings while looking at an artwork (he could be any artist’s parent). We as viewers asked ourselves whether we are like Hewson, zealously navigating the treacherous theoretical terrain of art, or like his father, standing at a confused (or unconvinced) distance.
The word “retrospective” usually signals a sweeping (or worse, nostalgic) look back over an artist’s career, with the looming implication of retirement. This was not the case with Hewson. Instead, the energy and versatility of the recent works suggested his best art is yet to come. The exhibition ultimately functioned as a tantalising prelude to the future. This was the first retrospective of new work I, for one, had ever seen. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were more of them?