Exhibitions
Auckland

LEONARD BELL

Gretchen Albrecht
Gretchen Albrecht's exhibition in Auckland comprised nine large (up to 1970 x 2200 mm) works on canvas and two smaller (810 x 1210 mm.) paintings. These two, oil and wax on paper, were in a framed, rectangular format - still the dominant mode of presentation in painting. In contrast the large paintings departed from this convention. They came in a variety of shapes, and each work (unframed) was made up of two or three canvases, each canvas monochrome, separately stretched, and bolted together. The component canvases (squares, rectangles, quadrilaterals, circular segments) were either jigsawed together to form a 'whole', or had a narrow divide (the white of the wall) between them - as in Chant; two c.50 degree segments of a circle, both in red, one hovering above the other.

The most successful works were the three bi-colour hemispheres, each colour area an equal size - a red and a blue-violet, a red and a green, and a yellow and a blueviolet - the colour rich and solid, the paint squeegeed on in broad strokes, about five to a quarter circle, the curves of each stroke rhyming with the circular edge of the canvas.

Despite the attractiveness, the vibrancy of the colours, the other large paintings I felt were less successful. The combinations of shapes, as in Legend, a large rectangle, a smaller square and quarter circle, did not always amount to effective wholes, or establish that necessary sense of 'rightness', in terms of size, shape, and relationships with wall and surrounding space, that characterises, for instance, the work of a painter like Ellsworth Kelly: who surely is a prime source of inspiration for Albrecht, My other reservation came from the titles. Lament, Rapture, Fruition, Verdant, for example, introduce anecdotal or naturalistic associations, which tend to compromise the prime qualities of Albrecht's paintings - the exploration of colour and colour relationships and effects as a 'subject' in itself. In respect of this, the paintings with the least complicated structure, the hemispheres, worked best: colour and structure ,merging' more effectively.

Whatever reservations I may have about some aspects of the work, over-all the show represented a considerable 'advance' over earlier work by Albrecht. Refreshingly, in contrast to the norm in New Zealand, Albrecht's 'investigative approach to the possibilities of painting, and unwillingness to rest content with well-tried, 'safe', or popular pictorial formulae, made the paintings among the most interesting and worthwhile produced here recently.

Ron Left
Ron Left last had a one-person exhibition at the Data Gallery in 1978, though from time-to-time the odd work has appeared in stock shows at the Petar/James Gallery. He has not ever been in a rush to exhibit, so this show was worth waiting for, since it included some very accomplished non-objective paintings - among the few good ones to be seen in Auckland this year.

There were seven paintings, acrylic on board, all large (median size c.1700 x1200 mm), and shaped. Two, Centripetal Edge 1& 3, from 1980, were rectangular with a narrow oblong 'cut-in' or segment 'removed' from the top side: in one case off-centre, the other centred. The other five, Equipoise 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8, all 1981 works, were six sided and seemingly 'irregular', though in fact variants on a double square format - the upper square 'tipped up' with each side of the diamond the same length as the bottom edge. All the paintings were 'partitioned' into four or five areas, radically different from one another in dominant colour, size and shape - in the Equipoise works, a small triangle, a slim oblong, and a large diamond biting into what would have been a square. The colours were strong and intense, without being bright or glossy-red, light blue, violet, yellow, olive-green, and purple, for instance. Yet these bold and diverse elements were held together in a fine, asymmetrical equilibrium, tense, but with no one feature dominating, or 'taking over' at the expense of others.

Left's paintings need to be scrutinised closely, since they are characterised by intricate and subtle play of colour and texture. They are multi-layered - so, for instance, in Equipoise No. 5 the red of the triangle has been applied over yellow and purple, the violet of the oblong over purple and green, the olive green of the diamond over blue and purple, with the underlayers peeping through round the edges, in the pencil-line thin internal divides between the various areas, and occasionally in small gaps in the field of each surface colour. The prevailing textural effect is of a thickish "skin" peppered with tiny, pinhead sized craters, only visible close up-the result of applying the paint with a flat metal trowel in one motion across the surface. This method effects a paint surface which "projects", and eschews any "atmospherics" and the conventional marks of handpainting, such as brushstrokes, which could interrupt the sense of "unity" of colour, surface and shape. This quality, the working of colour over colour, the orchestration of colour areas with internal shapes, and with the overall structure gives paintings which are quite self-sufficient in the energies they generate; paintings without need of props or supports extraneous to the medium for their effect. That is, Left has done the non-objective job impressively well.

Richard Killeen
Richard Killeen continued his investigations into the possibilities of the 'cut-out' with five 'arrangements' - four of pieces of painted aluminium, one of unpainted copper - of ten to thirty pieces each, tacked on to the gallery walls. The works were produced from December 1980 to October 1981, and reveal some marked changes - in the handling of the materials; in Killeen's approach to the formulation of the cut-out; and to the matter of the 'meanings' cultural products can have.

RICHARD KILLEEN Left, Right November 1981
alkyd on aluminium, 13 pieces, approximately 2000 x 4000 mm. (Peter Webb Galleries)

As with Killeen's first cut-outs, the thirty pieces of aluminium of Age of Fishes (December 1980) are neatly cut, clean-edged, and smooth-surfaced. There is an admixture of 'figurative' elements clearly recognisable diagrammatic shapes of sea creatures, such as tortoise, sea-horse, fish, and skate - and seemingly more 'abstract' elements, though these are generally evocative of marine life or phenomena. The tones of brown, green and blue of the pieces are vegetal or aquatic too. That is, the title and the primary pictorial elements fit together in a straightforward and unambiguous way. In contrast the later works are less determinate, the ingredients more open to ambiguity. Individual pieces no longer bear a simple diagrammatic relationship to recognisable zoological, botanical or meteorological entities though in Continental Drift (May 1981), the half-way work, some of the copper pieces perhaps suggest, crudely, fugitively, the shapes of clouds, whale, shark, even a submarine.

But in Left Right, Maze (both October 1981) and Living for Today (August 1981,) the pieces are stridently non-figurative and non-referential, usually so shaped as to disallow any inclination to zoo - or biomorphic readings; their arbitrariness, their 'artificiality' pronounced. The pieces in these three works too, unlike the earlier cutouts, are characterised by their rough edges, a hand-painted look, textured and seemingly carelessly (in fact fastidiously) rendered paint surfaces, and by colour contrasts and a colour range that lean towards the 'tacky', the 'common', or the 'cheap' - a long way from a model of tasteful design.

The major innovation of these works, however, resides in the manner of their arrangement. They were 'put up' or assembled, not by Killeen, but by five invited or selected people, who do not belong to the classification 'artist', as it is conventionally understood. That is, individuals, who normally would have been viewers of Killeen's work, actively participated in the creation of the finished art work - and so provided a practical demonstration, you could say, of the idea that any work of art, its meaning, is made up of elements, guidelines, a 'text' produced and presented by the artist, and of the responses of the viewers.

Viewer response, of course, can vary considerably. Thus the 'meanings' of art works must remain ultimately indeterminate, open to a variety of readings. Killeen operates in this field deftly. What of the 'non-artists' contributions at this show- Oddly enough, some of the arrangements suggested that, though Killeen had freed himself from the frame, not all of his collaborators had done so. They tended to assemble their pieces as if invisible frames set up boundaries not to be transgressed (though architectural features such as columns and doors may have been limiting factors). For in stance, no-one exploited corner spaces, and an orientation towards 'order' prevailed in the arrangements, even though the open-endedness of the work and process of production implied a more improvised, less deliberate approach, in which chance and the arbitrary played primary roles.

Given the nature of the exhibition and what went into the making of the works, conventional criteria for evaluating 'success' and 'quality' in paintings are hardly applicable. Killeen's work, rough edge and all, is engaging in its inventiveness and risktaking - primarily of value in terms of the sustaining ideas and the methods adopted which are highly innovative in a New Zealand context, and place Killeen as usual a step or two ahead of the next person, with everyone unsure of what is to come, but keen to see and know.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 22 Summer 1981-2