In these new paintings, Heaphy seeks to subvert the traditional reading of his subjects by offering new possibilities for interpretation. In combining images from disparate cultural and historical contexts, he disrupts the viewer’s notion of time and history.
In A Sunny Afternoon with Phar Lap on the Island of La Grande Jatte a silhouette of Phar Lap, a great iconic New Zealand horse (1926-1932), is painted with silhouetted elements of French post-Impressionist painter Georges-Pierre Seurat’s iconic painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884). The presentation of fictitious events is clearly not new to art but as art history reveals, once these narratives are realised in paint they themselves become a part of their cultural and social history. Here, Heaphy notes two distinct points in history in a contemporary context, and in doing so offers a leap in time, place and culture. The result offers a kind of collective hyperspace or hyperculture of images. Heaphy shows us that the effect of images is accumulative - they are interpreted, reinterpreted or even misinterpreted over time, shifting the intended meaning with it.
Combining these creates another hybrid- his paintings don’t just describe or record a culture; they also add and influence a culture by offering new ways of seeing. His works remind us that we are in a world where we are bombarded by images. Time, space and cultures seem easily accessible thanks to new technologies and cheap travel. Modern culture is so fast; things have been reduced to symbols which are then easily consumed. “Everything, all at once, now!” Judy Millar titles a recent Art News article, exploring artists’ response to the digital age. With an overload of available information, the need to collect, catalogue, file and cross reference becomes essential. Heaphy’s selected symbols, as diverse as Maori warriors, native New Zealand wildlife and Mickey Mouse, an Icon of capitalism and globalization, draw into question our understanding of modern culture, and the way in which it is pieced together.
Chris Heaphy’s use of symbols have both personal and global significance, to artist and viewer, capturing and challenging the viewer to make connections across cultural and historical contexts. In a fast-paced digital world, Heaphy’s paintings are a snap-shot of accumulated information, slowed down for us to consider as a whole.
image: A Sunny Afternoon with Phar Lap on the Island of La Grande Jatte, acrylic on linen, 1900 x 2800mm