Exhibition: Shadow Work – Oliver Perkins and Fiona Connor

Hopkinson Mossman Gallery, Auckland: 2/8/2018 – 1/9/2018

The main space at Hopkinson Mossman is some 10m square, one wall of which is given to frosted windows and, today, stormy daylight.   On the remaining white walls, four similarly constructed and sized painted works by Oliver Perkins hang among three pieces by Fiona Connor, two of which are American community noticeboards and one a black-painted cast of a plywood board showing signs of use.

Perkins’ objects are all identified as Untitled 2018, acrylic, rabbit skin glue, ink, canvas, pine stretchers and staples.  Each comprises a conventional rectangular stretchered canvas, sides roughly 600mm, that has been slit once vertically, Fontana-like.  Into this tight-cut marsupial pocket in the fabric a smaller stretchered canvas has been partially slid, neither emerging nor disappearing, but statically protruding from the slit like a neat handkerchief in a sideways breast pocket.  I’m storm-dampened, and perhaps in keeping with soggy memories of Scottish highlands, immediately drawn to a moss-green variant of Perkins’ works that from a distance looks relatively monotonal.

But even from a distance there’s something happening to intrigue, subtle tonal gradients and shadows that encourage closer attention. With proximity the work unfolds. Barring one unpainted edge of the larger canvas, the rest reveals flecked fields of drought-green that might be at home as a natural dye in a traditional Harris tweed.   The warp and weft of the canvas appears enhanced, further suggestive of dyeing rather than painting;  a notion somewhat disabused by the raw canvas evident at the edges of the slit.  The large canvas contains the smaller like tight jeans contain the body, the form within is easily read at the surface. The warp and weft of the two canvases are orthogonal, the play of light thus creating an impression that the smaller is a shade or two lighter than the larger.  And the tension of the squeeze creates sharp edges and slopes that bounce light and create gradients of shade.  I’m pulled in to this work, absorbed by it; deep within and behind, through the slit, is the dank grey-green of a deep cave I’m reluctant to leave.

Perkins has an abiding interest in the processes of painting and “thingness” of paintings (1), and continues to playfully use the wooden stretcher and the stretch and shrink of canvas, generating physical dimension and gradient in his work. These works do not belong to any illusory tradition of painting.  Their insistent presence derives in large part from the generative power of the focussed edge, while exploring a blurry boundary between painting and whatever might lie in the next dimension.  They hang and represent as paintings, yet inhabit and generate space.  It’s enquiry with a long and somewhat free-wheeling, user-defined tradition (e.g. 2).  Perkins has referred to previous iterations, using similar techniques, as “Implant Paintings” (3) and in his hands the gentle probing of the nature of painting clearly continues to be a fruitful source of inspiration.

As in some previous shows, Perkins’ titles don’t commit, and it is perhaps deliberately unclear what the show’s title references (I could find no catalogue for the exhibition).  There’s an obvious prosaic reading, while in Jungian psychology the shadow is a subconscious element of personality that is hidden from ego, or is the entirety of the subconscious (4).  Perkins’ work derives from playful experimentation that is subsequently edited, suggesting a high degree of initial subconscious involvement.  His inspirations come from diverse sources including, as evidenced in this piece, the mining of art history;  he brings small numbers of components together to create an emergent complexity (5).

Today, I couldn’t find the depth of engagement I experienced with this work in the other works Perkins has in this show. For me the playfulness is there in all of them, but it is this subdued green work that feels profound.  Perhaps it is the elevated degree to which the components have been reduced in this piece, and the organic complexities of these particular surfaces, that give me that feeling. In that sense, it is a perfect complement to Fiona Connor’s Untitled #9, the matt black richly textural cast hanging nearby.  But quite possibly, it is just the weather.

1.    Anon. 2018. http://moussemagazine.it/levin-perkis-rod-barton/#more-53208 accessed 17/8/2018

2.    Yablonsky, Linda. 2005. What Makes a Painting a Painting?: In: ArtNews  http://www.artnews.com/2005/04/01/what-makes-a-painting-a-painting accessed 17/8/2018

3.    Anon. 2018. http://moussemagazine.it/oliver-perkins-bleeding-edge-hopkinson-mossman-wellington-2018 accessed 17/8/2018

4.    Diamond, Stephen. 2012. Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: What is the “Shadow”? In: Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/evil-deeds/201204/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-what-is-the-shadow accessed 17/8/2018

5.    McWhannell, Francis. 2018. 5 New Zealand artists that you need to know about. In: Home Magazine https://www.homestolove.co.nz/inside-homes/people-places/5-new-zealand-artists-to-watch accesssed 17/8/2018

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