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October 15, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Visual Arts

In the introduction to Visual Arts in the Orientation Issue of Salient earlier this year (to borrow a line from the classic anti-media film Network), I said that of each Thursday night, “as the Salient deadline approaches I will blow my brains out and leave a red smear all over this page. Red with oils, pastels, ink, and hopefully some passion.”

I believe that I have succeeded at times to do this; it hasn’t always been easy either with having to do a new media column also and volunteering my time around the Salient office.

Also I was at pains to point out that the Visual Arts section is traditionally the “most boring and least-read section of Salient.” This is despite the passion of the reviewers, as it is less glamorous than the music and film sections.

Of the Visual Arts pages, I thought of them being “usually full of wanky and pretentious pseudo-hispter art.” This was because in my view, “Wellington’s arts community is as incestuous as they come.”

This was because it is small and intimate, but this has its advantages too. You can actually manage to meet some interesting artists. We have hammered into our heads that it’s not what you know, but who you know. That is so true; the adage in the arts industry that it is all about networking is also accurate.

There were a few pretentious wankers who shall remain nameless that I met over the course of the year, which was to be expected. But even more important were those who were the complete opposite, a case in point is Vincents Art Workshop, located in Community House on Willis Street behind the Dominion Post.

What makes Vincents special is that it is community-run for the community; you leave your ego, pretension, vanity, fashion, hipsterness and prejudices when you go through the door. It was set up 19 years ago as a result of the deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric hospitals. Today it is a successful public art space where all are welcome to come along and have access to various arts and craft facilities, skilled tuition, and materials in a supportive environment.

Vincents was also the birth place of an art movement, Finalism, or painted sculpture.

It is amazing that it took some Wellington artists to realise the historical importance of the overlooked art form that is painted sculpture. When we see marble Greek and Roman statues we rarely realise that once they would have been painted but have been weathered over the millennia. In Issue 19 I was proud to interview Augustus Firestone at Vincents, who is helping spearhead this exciting art movement. If you want to try out Finalism, feel free to pop down to Vincents on Level 4, 84 Willis Street.

One artist I met this year who also impressed me highly with his visceral style was Martin Doyle, initially at Roar Gallery as part of Paidraig, which was a celebration of St Patrick, and then again when he wandered into the Salient office to volunteer. What followed were several memorable images such as David Bain getting out of prison, a television with snakes, a rat and a bird coming out of it, and of course, A-Team leader Lukas Schroeter as Harry Potter and as a young right-wing superman. Martin, having done cartoons for Salient back in the 1970s, has yet again proven to be valuable at Salient by tirelessly providing quirky and interesting images for some of our features.

Art is not just in the pages of Salient, but right in our backyard too. At the top of the Student Union Building there is the Adam Art Gallery. Built in the late 90s, its goal is to encourage “understanding, awareness and appreciation of visual art and culture through exhibitions, interpretation and critical debate.” It is free to visit; you probably walk right past it every day, but if you want a break from the hustle and bustle of lectures, assignments and exams, then take the time to pop into Adam Art Gallery and check out some of Victoria University’s finest art.

A key feature of art is of course the galleries, acting as the dealers for artists and public viewing spaces, they play a vital role in visual arts.

So what happens when you go to a gallery, especially to an opening?

Well, you usually walk in and there will usually be a combination of either red and white wine, and sometimes beer too. The most common food is cheese, with fancy breads and sometimes crackers. It all varies and depends on the gallery; some have gala openings with bubbly, canapés and high-end art, whereas others just have regular wine and show case emerging artists. Each and every gallery is unique – we are lucky in Wellington that we have an abundance of galleries with an average turn around of exhibitions every three weeks.

So how do you find out about openings? Well, you can read the Salient Visual Arts section every week where the upcoming events are listed for the coming week. You can also ask the galleries to go on their invitation/email lists, or lastly you can check out the galleries’ websites for the latest exhibition details.

If you go to an opening you should take the opportunity to appreciate the art, mix and mingle and feel free to chat to the gallery staff about upcoming art and events.

Like most things, it has been an up and down year, with one dime a dozen gig in particular that rubbed some up the wrong way, and also a random Salient website comment from what I gather to be an elderly artist in Rhode Island New York, who didn’t like what I had to describe about Paul Hartigan’s Revolution exhibition, where I say of the high price tag of the neon light art works that in regards to students reading the review, “at least they can go to somewhere like Lighting Direct and buy some materials and make their own inspired lights to walk down the hallway in their flat on the way to the toilet at 3am on a Sunday morning illuminated by pure Neon splendour….”

His reply was that my review “suggests you not only have no taste, but did not understand, or appreciate, the works in the Tinakori Gallery exhibition at all.” The reason I mention this is that, most of you studying think that you cannot go to a gallery and be interested in art, because you either have little money to buy art or aren’t artists either. Nothing could be further from the truth, Hartigan’s neon light art works are beautiful, and have received many high-end commissions.

It is the reality of most students that they couldn’t even think of affording such excellent art. Instead what they should do is go to galleries and become inspired – I encourage every student to express them selves creatively. Hartigan’s art should are a commentary on society, living spaces and how light interacts with the environment. So going down to Lighting Direct and dressing your room up after seeing works such as Hartigan’s is something I encourage every student to do. After all, you will appreciate the effect mood lighting can have on your mental health at this time of year as you enter the exam period.

There have, of course, been several high points throughout the year, luckily this happened most weeks, and as a result there is little room to mention them all.

This is of course the time of year to thank every one who made these highlights possible, so I would like to thank all of the artists I have reviewed and profiled and their galleries. Special mention must of course go to Martin Doyle, Glenn and the team at Vincents Art Workshop, Frances Loefer from Adam Art Gallery, Ron Epskamp from Fishers Fine Arts, Katie Duke from Toi Poneke Wellington Arts Centre, Jennifer Lee from Quimzy, William Hedley, John Reynolds, Peter McLeavey, Catherine Rhodes from Tinakori Gallery, Julian Daspher, James Gilberd and the Hamish McKay Gallery, dime a dozen gigs, Michael Hawkins and Arlo Edwards.

Also the artists I have profiled; Freeman White, Augustus Firestone and Sandy Rodgers.

Finally, those who volunteered and also wrote Visual Arts reviews – Chris Renwick, Kerry Tankard, Mike Polaczuk, Lisa Lawton and Karolina Kielczewska. Also kudos to Grant and Tony for laying the images out and making them look awesome in their colour splendour, and the editor and the rest of the team at Salient.

It has been a long and hopefully not too self indulgent year, and I hope that there has been enough passion on these pages after all. I came into this role having been a former critic of Salient over the years and a Lucid refugee, and have enjoyed it immensely checking out local art. Salient has always been about creating debate and passion, and I am thankful that I have been able to contribute to it. I wish next year’s Visual Arts Editor all the best and hope they enjoy Wellington’s art as much as I have.


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