The Great Leap Forward
Reviewed by Karen Dravitzki
Confusing, amusing, wildly eclectic, groundbreaking. From recovered billboard fabric to galvanised steel, sewn strips of paper to re-shaped Dispirin packets, fluorescent light boxes to bronze and wood; it would seem nothing unites the Paramount Winners of the Wallace Art Awards for the last twenty years. Except something does, innovation, an opening up of these artists’ art practice that propels these works forwards into new territories.
Colour and scale resonate in Judy Millar’s Big Pink Shimmering One alongside Jim Speers’ translucent layers of pink and yellow light in English Electric.
With its red and green anthropomorphic birds Bill Hammond’s Watching for Buller, has become an iconic work. It’s in-between spaces creating tensions in the work has something in common with Jenny Doležel’s Charm School, however different the subject matter.
Jeffrey Harris’s imposing skull-like elephantine safety pin From Dream unsettles with its bold use of red, shadows and symbolism. It seems as different as it is possible to be from Williams and Jowsey’s 2009 surreal photographic winner, The Correction, where a collapsed pink toy sits on a father’s head while a daughter stares wearily on. The Correction however does link to the mirror images of Janus painted on two panels of perspex by Sam Mitchell, if only in their use of duel panels and ambiguity; the requirement upon the viewer to wrestle with their interpretation of random signs.
Intense vibrating colour explodes off Sara Hughes’ winner from 2005, Download, only for the mind to be quietened as it rests on Elizabeth Thomson’s tranquil Southern Cross Parterre. Like bathing the mind in a pool of cool water, Thomson’s delicate cast metal leaves in the shape of a cross summon up all kinds of questions about the cosmos, spirituality and our place in the universe. The olive 3-D leaves against a white background provoke a sense of space, of breathing, of being able to fall through the gallery wall, to the other side.
Thomson came to Pataka, in Porirua City, where this exhibition is being held until 5th August, to share what winning the Wallace Award meant for her and her art practice.
After a tumultuous period in her life, moving from Auckland to Wellington and feeling extremely unsettled, winning the award meant she suddenly felt as if she could practice her art anywhere, giving her a huge feeling of professional acceptance and financial support from which she could build. Spending a month’s residency in Spain with her husband and son, immersed in the atmosphere of Easter candle-lit processions, the townspeople and brass trumpets, was especially resonant after the passing away of her mother. As a direct result of these travels, her work took shape in a new direction, increased in scale and provided a distillation of her conceptual thinking, “it was as if a new way of seeing had been opened up for me”.
After twenty years, The Wallace Art Awards have provided a diverse range of educational grants and residences for all of these artists, each with a different, unique, perhaps unexpected, impact on their art practice. Even before 2011 winner, Akiko Diegel, began her six month residency in New York, she had “started to feel an effect of American culture, even though I have not been there yet.”
The Wallace Award set out to give exposure to outstanding, emerging artists. Sir James Wallace believes that although winners have often been controversial, each winner has stood up to the test of time. This retrospective confirms that belief.
Next this exhibition travels back to its’ home turf, the Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville, where it will be showing from 15th August until 21st October.
Judy Millar's 'The Big Pink Shimmering One', The James Wallace Arts Trust