Cut it Up
By Mark Amery
In art, collage has been treated as the small, quiet and novel cousin who occasionally comes to visit.
It’s a medium that rose with cubism’s fragmentation of the picture plane, yet its now, in this postmodern age - with the veracity and of every image up for question - when it might finally be having its day.
The many contemporary New Zealand painters who collage imagery aside, the likes of Peter Madden, Jacqueline Fraser, Jae Hoon Lee and Brendan OBrien all treat collage as their principal media.
Small, quiet and novel also words that could are describe much that is shown at Robert Heald Gallery, where collage is common. Heald’s gallery is marked by a strong sense of its own style. Work often involves subtle manipulations of found material, textures and light. Blotches on tissue paper by Schaeffer Lemalu exhibited there last year, as example, would be ripe for derision and parody for their earnestness if the work wasn’t so damn exquisite and delicate.
The same goes for collagist Richard Bryant. His current show is of abstract collages made from found paper and archival tape. On the face of it they are simple and mundane –art for lovers of stationary. Pages of old paper are laid neatly side by side, or filleted into strips and re-laid tidily as rectangles. There is none of the flash juxtaposition of found imagery, or ragged emotional sense of ripping up and starting again we normally associate with collage.
Yet they are not dull at all. They are utterly beautiful; delicate in their attention to the rhythmic and tonal music of found patterns and colours sat against each other. Attuned to the weight and lift of a piece of paper. The page is treated with the reverence of the body, white bone or pinky flesh; aging and crinkling, yet ravishing and refined. In a time when paper is treated like one of the most disposable of commodities such attention to the patina of time on a few sheets is refreshing.
The collages of Wayne Youle at Suite Gallery couldn’t be more different. Reminiscent of the bright, cocky and politicised work of the original Pop artists, Youle paints over, cuts up and generally bastardises a range of found photographs, historic paintings and other ephemera found whilst on a residency at Sydney’s Artspace last year. The works thrive on Youle’s bold, irreverent and often very funny manipulation of material relating to everything from historical relations with Sydney’s indigenous population to women’s breasts. They run with the wanton charm of a diary, celebrating the artist’s ability to be playful and refusal to be pinned down - nicely in line with this exhibition’s title You be Fact, I Be Fiction.
This is common Youle strategy: an outpouring of work that refuses to take one position or itself too seriously. This can lead to weak jokey posturing with occasional standout works. The beauty of the small collage for Youle as a media however is they are so lightweight. Youle can afford to sprinkle us with bullets, knowing a few will hit their targets.
Audacity gets him far: a man in pink undies and Stetson labelled a Kings Cross Cowboy is laugh-out-loud perfect; an historic drawing of a group of Aborigine huddled together, given a rainbow range of coloured blankets is poppy but poignant. Neatly, Youle adds bright colour by layering strips of sign vinyl or dot painting onto the surfaces, in homage to aboriginal art and to strong rhythmical and comic effect.
The exhibition suggests that sometimes the best response to a history of oppression is laughter, not anger. As if to say, ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’.
- audible, adrift, Richard Bryant, Robert Heald Gallery, until 27 April
- You be Fact, I’ll be Fiction, Wayne Youle. Suite, until 27 April
Not to be Missed
- 20 Yeah!, Roar Gallery, until 28 April
Happy Birthday Pablos Studio. The much-loved Wellington institution turns 20 with a packed show studded with vital, intense and joyous outsider artwork