Peter Dornauf – 10 October, 2020
I know it is bad form to mention the money, but in this case I will ignore such infelicities and clearly announce that the substantial sum of $20,000 was the winner's prize, sponsored by the Philip Vela Family Trust. They have supported this award for the last twenty years. Such patronage and largesse over such an extended period of time makes for an astonishing contribution to the health of the arts in the community of practitioners. Applause at this point goes without saying.
The New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Award 2020
Judged by Julia Waite
3 October - 5 October 2020
The big news in the art world at the moment is the cancellation (or if you prefer, “postponement” of the Philip Guston shows that were to premiere this year. The National Gallery of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston and The Tate Modern have conjointly postponed, for four years, a major Philip Guston exhibition.
Why? The answer beggars belief. My own interpretation (blaming the right, its fear of the inflammatory power of images and allegedly brainless audiences; however the official explanation blames the left, identity politics and cultural ownership issues) is that they were afraid the public might misread the work. This is all part of the culture of enfeeblement that is sweeping the corridors of institutions and academia today, where sensitivities in the extreme are pandered to, and shrinking violets call the tune. The Jewish and anti-racist Guston will be turning in his grave.
The (much) lesser news in the art world is that the grand prize winner of the New Zealand Painting and Print Award 2020 was Reece King with Good Socks, a painting that possessed direct echoes of Guston’s style. It’s Guston without the figures. Well, almost. A nicely tempered abstract where just enough playful and ambiguous reference to the figure gets involved. Both rough and slightly more refined brush strokes are employed in the painting to lend the work visual tension and interest, while the modulated blues and greys provide an appropriate cool aesthetic.
As for the meaning? I have no hesitation in allowing the public to interpret the work as they see fit. Namby-pamby does not apply here. The artist claims that he is at work against a “post-truth age”. You can all take it from there.
I know it is bad form to mention the money, but in this case I will ignore such infelicities and clearly announce that the substantial sum of $20,000 was the winner’s prize, sponsored by the Philip Vela Family Trust. They have supported this award for the last twenty years. Such patronage and largesse over such an extended period of time makes for an astonishing contribution to the health of the arts in the community of practitioners. Applause at this point goes without saying.
Another winner on the night was Lauren Drescher (Print Council of Aotearoa New Zealand Merit Award in Printmaking) for her relief print, Venus Family, which presented 55 images, in grid format, inspired by Paleolithic fertility figures. But it was the smaller work by the same artist that arrested my attention: The Iris. The artist is a collector of ephemera associated with natural history and antiquity and this collage piece, including found paper, (looking like something from an old leger page), and using Chine-collé, drypoint and watercolour, combined with imagery taken from folktales, children’s notebooks and bestiary, presented a delightful frieze of figures popped out of folklore. Her preoccupation is the exploration of themes to do with our “lost connection with nature”. The work possessed both charm and a surrealist edge in a structure that gave energy and verve to the narrative, complete with found pencil scribbles and other notations.
Others of note were the architectural abstract, Edifice #2, by Terri Greenem, which demonstrated subtle handling of line, space, colour and geometric form. Krystie Wade’s By Scattered Light did something the same, but with a much bolder and brighter palette, and fluid brushstroke. Her abstractions referenced space and time as envisioned inside a physicist’s universe. Deborah Moss’s Our Place was another whose chunky energized and more expressive brush work captured, in abstract annotation, the rural environs surrounding her studio.
Abstraction dominated the show; over half of the works included were representative of the style. Of the smaller format, Amanda Wilkinson’s Inside Out was a good example of a quirky engagement, with three dimensions on a flat surface. The sharp delineation of the contradictory combination of forms was not a product of masking tape, the artist was at pains to point out. All hand done.
Laura Williams was one of the figurative works that took out the Brian Perry Charitable Trust Merit Award in Painting. Her lockdown themed work, Seclusion: The Realization, employed her usual ornate and embellished naïve style, with sumptuous decorative floral forms festooning a bedroom interior, with sly references to art historical works on the wall. In this cornucopia of colour and rich flower-patterned designs, there was, however, some sting in the tail in the narrative of her paradise setting.
One of the quieter achievers in the show was the winner of the Wintec Media Arts Merit Award in Painting, Nadia Gush and her near monochromatic work, Waikato River (near Kirikiriroa). Shades of dark and light green portrayed the river in this small modest painting which saw the artist working her impasto lines in this semi abstract piece to suitable effect.
The final award was the Ruth Davey Merit Award in Printmaking that went to Luca Nicholas. His Hyper-ballad (intaglio on Hahnemuhle etching paper) presented a smorgasbord of abstract and realist imagery free floating in a delicate network of lines, blobs, smudges tracery, foliage, and other geometric elements. A little mystery of accumulated notes, cyphers and jottings.
For the rest, Alan Ibell (The Pass) rates a mention with his ubiquitous lone and enigmatic figures shadowed against a backdrop of rolling hills. Tonia Geddes (Porirua Collage #2) reinvented Gordon Walters with enlargement, a cheeky tilt and close-up detail. Jennie de Groot, past punk seamstress, cut up her painted canvas into strips to then sew them back together in a refashioned landscape, while David Brown (AR 2020-112) did formal symmetries spiked with angular lines.
In all, 56 works across a broad spectrum of styles were selected by judge Julia Waite. Beyond the formal considerations of the abstract works, there was the usual range of subjects engaged within this snapshot of New Zealand art practice, where issues to do with time, memory, histories, nostalgia, antiquity and the past dominated.
My only reservation was that, as is often the case, the blurbs explaining the works were in some intances overwrought and breathless, straining for a significance which the work themselves struggled to deliver.
Yet another successful Award Show supported by the Waikato Society of Arts, with postponement due to timidity never a consideration.