An oversized painting will frequently dominate the room in which it hangs, engulfing the viewer physically and, often, emotionally. Gow Langsford Gallery presents Enveloping Scales, an exhibition of five paintings that consider the act of looking when viewing large format works. Each work typical of their maker’s practice, Reuben Paterson’s Whakapapa Get Down on Your Knees, John Pule’s Not of this Time (Dreamland), John Reynold’s Liberty During Construction, Judy Millar’s Ring in the View and Jeffrey Harris’ Of Time and Ambience all evince the affective qualities afforded by large scale painting.
Historically, Western art has prioritised large-format paintings, reserving them for the most lauded of subjects - the narrative painting, which was often employed by the elite to demonstrate wealth, power, and lineage. Paterson’s Whakapapa Get Down on Your Knees toys with historic painting hierarchy, elevating domestic intimacies - “wallpaper, Hawaiian shirts, Dad’s ties and my Kuia’s party dresses” - to the scale befitting a royal commission. A reconfiguration of the original 64m2 painting of the same name, this work sees koru forms from kowhaiwhai painting sit alongside paisley flowers lifted from the Scottish textile industry in a kaleidoscopic tessera of meticulously applied glitter.
When confronted by a really big painting, the eye is unable to take in its entirety at once. Judy Millar’s Ring in the View introduces the vertical axis in the viewing experience – forcing her audience to look up. Drawing inspiration from Auckland’s west coast beaches, Millar’s painting invokes the tempestuous skies, swamping the viewer.
Alternatively, the viewer must walk closely alongside a large format painting, consuming section by section. Niuean painter John Pule’s diptych Not of This Time (Dreamland) takes advantage of this, inviting the approaching viewer on a journey through history, legend, and religion. Obliging viewers are rewarded with small, hesitant ink sketches which chronicle the history of colonialism and cultural transmission in the Pacific, navigating the Pasifika diaspora. Oases of blue enamel are dispersed across the diptych, providing respite from past horrors and acknowledging the practical and mythological importance of the ocean in Pasifika cultures.
Where Pule’s narrative map quietly traces events past, present and future, John Reynold’s painting envelops his audience in the overwhelming tumult of current events. Executed in 1983, Liberty During Construction captures New Zealand’s socio-political turbulence following the Springbok tour of 1981 and the 1984 snap election. Aggressive mark-making covers the canvas obscuring an underlying composition – with time, a black/white, left/right divide reveals itself to the viewer, underscoring the fractious climate of 1980s New Zealand.
Jeffrey Harris’ triptych, stretching across 4.5 metres of wall, shares the turmoil of Reynolds’ painting but applies it instead to the domestic setting. Like many works of Harris’, Of Time and Ambience is characterised by what he referred to as ‘painted pain’, tracing autobiography through religious symbolism – St Peter’s keys, a chalice of the Eucharist and, snakes which might represent some underlying transgressions. Harris’ painting strikes the viewer with scale to match the psychological intensity.
Please note our Kitchener St Gallery is closed for renovations.