Gow Langsford Gallery is pleased to present a group exhibition of three of New Zealand’s most significant contemporary painters: Darryn George, Shane Cotton and Ralph Hotere. The artists are linked by the conceptual concerns explored within their works – which often attempt to reconcile a Maori and European heritage: both personal, and collective. In this exhibition they are also aligned through the formal qualities of their work: primarily their use of black.
The black painting has a long tradition in international art histories and a significant history within New Zealand art practices. Internationally, Ad Reinhardt professes to have had the definitive communion with black: completing paintings in black and near black tones, reductivist in colour and form. Locally, associations with the black painting are defined by the work of Colin McCahon. McCahon’s work, unlike Reinhardt’s self-referential paintings, showcases black and white to enhance the spiritual qualities within his work. His large text works for example often feature biblical passages shining forth from the void, the light within the dark.
Continuing in this local tradition, Ralph Hotere, one of New Zealand’s most influential and established artists, began his black series in 1968. His highly lacquered dark planes are reflective, and as in the paintings in this show, interrupted by bright threads of colour. Although indebted to the European modernist and abstract tradition, the artist’s repeated use of the circular motif signals further interpretations alluding to life cycles, God and eternity.
Shane Cotton, a mid career artist, created a series of black-ground works at the turn of the millennium. Addressing New Zealand’s colonial history, and postcolonial present, black functions in these pieces as a fixture to anchor the floating forms (and loaded symbols) of serpents, birds and upoko tuhituhi. In addition to biculturalism, the works also explore a ‘bi-spirituality’.
Darryn George, the youngest of the three artists, has been exploring black gloss surfaces (reminiscent of Hotere) in his most recent series of works. George is known for his geometric abstractions which employ bright colours – often the traditionally Maori colours of red, white and black. As such, his works tie the use of black into a specifically Maori-based vernacular. The series featured in this exhibition expands on George’s previous works that look at language as an introduction to bridging cultures. (exhibition text, Winsome Wild, 2009)