RICHARD KILLEEN New Paintings 1978

Richard Killeen's new paintings, some of which were shown recently at Gallery Data, belong to one of two series made since his return to Auckland in 1977 after a year overseas. The first series of unexhibited works are stencilled animal, bird, insect and fish forms on plywood and aluminium. In their subjects they relate to paintings he has made over a number of years. But the groupings of motifs are now more extensive, almost encyclopaedic in scope. In some, the images occur in rows laid out horizontally on unpainted ply or raw aluminium; in others they are superimposed over one another and jumbled together giving an effect rather like recent Rauschenberg collages. Paintings in the first series have to be read out, motif by motif, from close range. At a distance, the whole structure of tiny birds, insects and the like disintegrates. The motifs simply disappear. These works are very decorative, accessible and highly personal in character.

RICHARD KILLEEN Time and Balance April 1978
acrylic lacquer on aluminium, 1220 x 1220 mm. (Data Gallery)

By contrast, the second series is much more extensive, is nonfigurative, hard-edge, and sharper in colour. But certain consistencies remain. One is the use of aluminium as a support, now preferred to plywood or canvas. Another is the sprayed application of paint. One hand-painted work, entitled Positive and Polynesian (February 1978), in enamel on aluminium, proved very time-consuming to execute. For Killeen, spraying coats of Dulon lacquer on 'the metal makes sense because it is faster. Also, once we realise that getting coats of paint to stick to aluminium requires a scientifically-calculated procedure geared to spraying, then his preference for this technique is easy to justify. It is the soundest and most economic way to put paint on the metal.

The question arises: why paint on aluminium? There are some obvious advantages, such as its durability, resistance to air and moisture. Besides, it is made locally, unlike canvas, so that it is cheaper than traditional materials to buy and prepare. Repairs to the surface are as easy to make as to a car paint job. Also, aluminium enables Killeen to get a very thin, strong, light, painted surface - the next best thing to a mural in proximity to the wall plane. There are no cumbersome stretchers, no need for frames; once painted the works are complete. And the smooth surfaces of paint are undisturbed by canvas threads, wood-grain or the like. They have a basic painted character that is distinctly removed from the associations of the hand-made or crafted constructions of an older generation of local painters. They are unencumbered, too, in Killeen's case, by negative, fatalistic or introspective messages, associations or philosophies. At last a happy, normal painting (April 1978) is one title from the series that makes the point. Killeen paints positively.

RICHARD KILLEEN Integration March 1978
acrylic lacquer on aluminium, 900 x 900 mm. (Data Gallery)

In structure the new paintings are remarkably simple. Their format is either square or rectangular. Most are divided in half vertically, and there is a grid formed where horizontal divisions are carried across the whole surface. In some, Killeen divides the picture into equal parts, as in Integration; in others, such as Time and Balance, he makes large and smaller divisions. Each rectangle of the grid is bisected on the angle to form triangles with apex and base alternating at the centre and outer edge of the work. He stresses the triangular shapes by painting them in bright colours, often with great tonal contrasts, such as black and white, pale yellow and black, or deep red and white. So extreme are many of the juxtapositions that optical distortions take place with great frequency. One common to nearly all the series happens at the centre. The vertical division, where the triangles meet one another, gets pushed out of plumb by light shapes appearing to jut out into dark ones next to them. This occurs, for example, in Time and Balance between the white and black triangles. The straight and static grid base of the paintings is constantly beseiged by thrusting diagonals, optical effects and brilliant colour clashes and interplays. Paradoxically, while the format is simple, its effect is not.

The longer you look at the paintings the more possibilities: you find. First, the brain quickly groups the triangles so that seeing them separately remains a possibility: but one that is overruled. They want to form larger groupings. Killeen encourages this by linking the triangles by colour and position on the grid. For example, in Time and Balance, the top, narrow triangles of red and white, eight in all, make a larger whole like a flag, or pennants on a pole. One title, Blue Peter, shows the artist is aware of this kind of association. He likes flags. Also, where the size of the triangles varies, as in the same picture, it is possible to see the linked forms of red and white receding as if in perspective. Even the larger black and white triangles can be read this way, if seen on the diagonal and in groupings of four. Accordingly, although the paintings are flat and not illusionistic, the way we see them can give unexpected dimensions to the imagery.

In this series of new paintings Killeen works without as yet feeling the theme is exhausted. To him the scope is vast. Yet, he is uninterested in going through all possible variations systematically. Like Gordon Walters, he finds the selfimposed restrictions of the series a catalyst for invention. He works by intuition in choosing colours and sizes. When his interest goes the series will end.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 10 Winter 1978