Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 8. 10 June 1970
Notes Towards a Definition of Art
Notes Towards a Definition of Art
First display in library series
The recent display of Kees Hos' prints in the Library was the first of a series of such exhibitions to be held throughout the year featuring the work of leading New Zealand artists.
Kees Hos studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at the Hague. He began publishing when he came to New Zealand in 1936. Since then he has explored new methods of relief printing and intaglio which allow him a flexible and spontaneous way of image formation.
The prints in the exhibition are concerned with the duality of spirit and matter. Elements representing our physical material and commercial involvement are contrasted with the organic, spiritual and etheric forces in a free and creative way within the idiom of the medium, but not as illustration.
Clement Greenberg's brief discussion of the contemporary art scene pointed to the inevitable limitations to which art in New Zealand is subjected. Though we may strive to create a significant art scene our aspirations must be necessarily modest.
For, as Mr Greenberg emphasised, all great art is produced and is intimately connected with a major art centre: Paris for the last generation. New York today. Such a centre provides the pressure and stimulation of the most ambitious artists of the day.
It offers the opportunity to see the actual creations of the contemporary movement, as compared to the crude reproductions available elsewhere. And so New Zealanders rarely get a chance to view great works of art. Consequentially all our important artists must seek inspiration overseas—an unfortunate situation to which no satisfactory solution seems possible.
—In an Art Review which appeared in your issue nf June 25th, the following sentence appeared:
"Elements representing our physical material and commercial involvement are contrasted with the organic, spiritual and etheric forces in a free and creative way within the idiom of the medium, but not as illustration."
Reviewer Helen Kedgley deserves some sort of award for this extraordinary comment. She should eschew such esoteric obfuscation.
Victor Pasmore, one of Britain's greatest contemporary painters, believes, as does Clement Greenberg, in the immense importance of the artist's environment on his individual expression. He says: "One's development is the ultimate result of one's background and the influence one undergoes." And the work of Don Peebles, a chiefly self-taught artist, is currently being exhibited in the library. He has greatly benefited from his recent overseas experience where he was strongly influenced by Victor Pasmore's recent three-dimensional work and has since concentrated on pure abstract reliefs and instructions.
But above all, Don Peebles had managed to assimilate Pasmore's influence into his own personal vision. In contrast with Pasmorc's characteristic quality of transparent lightness, Peebles animates the static forms of his constructions with strong carefully chosen colours. His sensitive and intelligent work carries the conviction of sincere and considered individual expression.
Of the works exhibited in the library the artist says: "I should like these small works to be seen as autonomous or self-sufficient. Rather than having direct links with constructivism, they are essentially painterly. Neither the reliefs nor the paintings form a mathematical basis but are assembled with a free sense of order more characteristic of the painter than of the function-influenced architect or designer."
Last year the New Zealand Print Council was formed at the Auckland Art Gallery. The council will provide organised support and encouragement for the substantial body of serious printmakers that now exist in New Zealand.
Printmaking essentially involves leaving an impression of the artist's image on the surface of another object. As such it is an original creation and must be recognised as a work of art.
Among the best known printmakers in New Zealand today are Elva Bell, Patrick Hanly, Barry Cleavin and Mcrvyn Williams, but the most outstanding is John Drawbridge.
Born in Wellington in 1930 he was an assistant lecturer at Teachers' College before being awarded the National Art Gallery Travelling Scholarship in 1957, which enabled him to study at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, where many of the new approaches to printmaking were taught. For a year he studied printmaking in Paris under S.W. Haytcr and Johnny Friedlandcr. At present he lives in Wellington where he teaches in the design department of the Wellington Polytechnic.
Ten of John Drawbridge's prints are currently exhibited at the National Art Gallery. All are of an' extremely high standard. In the 'Tanya Going and Coming" scries the artist is concerned primarily with exploring three different aspects of space. With utmost simplicity of colour—black, grey and white—he captures the essential quality of space; not by alternately defining the area, but by suggesting its infinity with a subtly distorted perceptive. By varying the tone and texture of his prints, introducing grey patterned areas to relieve the intensity of the contrasting black and white, the prints are given an imaginative, almost lyrical quality.
The stark area of plain black give the prints solidarity and density. Areas of light are carefully placed so as to draw the eye into the moving "Tanya Going and Coming."
Sir—I have a strong disposition to think that there is always something in what your correspondent Mr M.C. Mitchell has to say. But his recent attack on your Art Reviewer, Helen Kedgley, is, I fear, unfounded.
Take, for example. Miss Kedgley's contribution this week. There is a photograph of what to me appears to be a diagonally shattered black square with two right angle lines and a prong sticking into a white background.
But, alas, I am mistaken. This, says the accompanying review, is an example of the artist's assimilation "of Pasmore's influence into his own personal vision". Aghast, I learn that "In contrast with Pasmore's characteristic quality of transparent lightness, Peebles animates the static forms of his constructions with strong carefully chosen colours".
This is great stuff.
A suitable case for treatment
The work of one of New Zealand's best artists, Patrick Hanly, is at present on display in the library.
A well-known New Zealand artist, Patrick Hanly spent four years at the Canterbury art school, and studied in Europe for six years. He has received scholarships from the Italian government, the Dutch government, the British Arts Council and the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council. His work has been widely exhibited overseas as well as in New Zealand.
The eleven paintings in the library are selections from the major series of the artist's work 1959-1967.
The "Fire" and "Showgirl" series painted while Hanly was in Europe represent what the artist himself would describe as his "corny" stage, when he was concerned to create socially significant and symbolic paintings. These powerful pieces of work are characterised by an energetic, almost feverish, application of colour.
By contrast in the "Figures in Light" series, Hanly's work has become more stylised, formal and ordered. After returning to New Zealand he was greatly affected by the light and space. He portrays this feeling in his paintings with impersonal people painted in hard light. Similarly in 'The Girl Asleep" scries, again painted in a beautifully controlled and restrained style, he captures the mood of the sleeping girl.
Finally with the "Pacific Icons" series Hanly has moved away from representational work and created abstract images of the Pacific "essentialness."
The Benson and Hedges Art Award is at present being exhibited at the National Art Gallery.
With a very generous first prize of $3000, 26 selections from 214 entries, one would expect this exhibition to present some of New Zealand's best art.
But this is not the case. (Most of the artists, in striving to keep up with overseas trends, seem to have confused originality with novelty. As' a result their paintings tend to be facile and unconvincing attempts at emulation of overseas artists.
Ian Scott's "Mini Skirt", for example, can be distinguished from Britain's Allan Jones by his lack of technical skill; Don Driver adds his own personal touch to his coloured stripes with pieces of stainless steel—must he!
Ralph Motere's "Black Painting" of the Ad Reinhardt variety is in fact divided into four by a red strip of colour, and Ray Thornburn uses fluorescent lights in his "Modular I" to add chaos to his confusion.
However, there were notable exceptions such as Michael Smithers' beautifully painted "Rock Pools" and Patrick Hanly's "Now and Forever".
The winning painting, Wong Sing Tai's "Outside The Inside Out" is certainly an impressive and powerful piece of work, if not exactly pleasing to the eye. The mail scene based on the artist's personal experience conveys with a disconcerting reality the horror of the claustrophobic jail.
The bareness of the room in which the prisoner crouches menaced by a huge black figure is emphasised by the restrained use of colour.
Nevertheless, I do feel that the overall standard of the exhibition was disappointingly low, reflecting the poor quality of much of New Zealand art.