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Sumer Art Gallery Tauranga Bay of Plenty New Zealand

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Dashper, 

van der Ploeg

& Walters

2 February - 9 March 2019

In association with Michael Lett, Two Rooms & Starkwhite

This exhibition brings together the work of Gordon Walters (1919–1995), Julian Dashper (1960–2009) and Jan van der Ploeg (b.1959). These artists’ work shares common adherence to the aesthetic conventions of geometric abstraction or hard-edge painting; however such a simple explanation belies the more subtle and specific relationships that exist between these works, and also between these artists and their respective projects.

 

The exhibition contains work that on one level remains true to the tradition of Western modernist abstraction—with its pure concerns of line, colour and form—yet also occupies a more conceptually uneasy space, wherein issues of appropriation (both cultural and personal), originality and authenticity are negotiated.

 

Gordon Walters’ paintings are among some of the most iconic and widely celebrated works by any New Zealand artist. An expression of quintessential modernist sentiments, his works are strongly influenced by Māori and Pacific Island visual forms; and, as in the case with Untitled, 1966, the drawings of an institutionalised person (most likely autistic): Rolfe Hattaway [1907–1970], a committed patient at Oakley Hospital whose drawings were collected by Walters’ friend and fellow artist Theo Schoon [1915–1985] in the late 1940s while working as a nurse-aid [1]. Walters’ interest in these 'other' visual cultures reflects primitivist ethos—a position which, whilst well intentioned, nevertheless may today seem problematic. Walters best-known works, his koru paintings, have been the subject of both high praise and fierce criticism for their use of traditional Māori forms (albeit a stylised version thereof). But what is particularly striking about such work is that when compared with the work of other artists working in a similar mode from Europe and North America, Walters’ work appears quite unique and different—appearing to be something of a modernist aberration: an anomaly that numerous critics have put down to the geographical isolation of New Zealand, and the challenges of communication over such great physical distance.

 

Julian Dashper initially gained attention in the 1980s with his playful and bombastic gestural abstract work, before shifting his focus, in the early 90s, towards making the more aesthetically cool form of pop-conceptualism for which he is most well-known. Dashper’s work often riffed the aesthetics of hard-edge painting and minimalism but their appearance could be deceptive. Many of his key works played with ideas associated with New Zealand’s isolation—of second-hand news and misunderstanding (which he deduced as the root cause of an eccentricity which pervades New Zealand modernism) [2]. In this exhibition we have two key works by Dashper which illustrate this point: Untitled (Painting for P.R.), 1992, looks as if it might be the work of French artist Daniel Buren, but what transpires is that the work is actually a readymade, a commercially-printed awning canvas which the artist has carefully stretched. And again with Untitled, 1993, we see an early example of Dashper’s iconic drum heads, his nod to the classic target paintings of Jasper Johns, Kenneth Noland, Peter Blake, Poul Gernes, et al—giants of the American and European Pop-Art scenes.

 

Dutch artist Jan van der Ploeg has been a frequent visitor to these shores over the past three decades. A good friend of Dashper’s, the two artists often exhibited together during Dashper's lifetime, both here and elsewhere. Van der Ploeg’s work, like Dashper’s, presents us with a playful form of pop-abstraction. However, unlike Dashper with his use of readymades, van der Ploeg engages more conventional modes of studio and commercial painting. Van der Ploeg’s large-scale wall paintings and smaller works on canvas and paper meld original compositions with appropriated forms and motif—with sources as diverse as industrial packaging, band logos (Black Flag) and other artists’ work (Walters). His work presents an exploration of colour, line and form (and optical effects), whilst at the same time reflecting an understanding that abstraction is a visual form which is not seen in isolation but rather as referential, connected and continuous with the world around it. For this exhibition, van der Ploeg has created two large-scale wall paintings. On the gallery exterior he has made a new work, Wall Painting No. 474, Untitled, 2019, which is similar to his previous zigzag works shown in Europe; however within this local context it also bears a strong resemblance to the Māori poutama pattern seen in tukutuku panels and whāriki (woven mats), and so too to the later geometric work of Walters also seen in this exhibition, Untitled, 1990. Inside the gallery he has created a striped work, Wall Painting No. 476, Untitled, 2019, a work which has been produced in the purple of Sumer’s visual identity.

[1] Skinner, D., Garland, A. & Darrow, K. (1997). Hattaway, Schoon, Walters : madness and modernism. Auckland: Lopdell House Gallery.

[2] Dashper, J. (1998). The Twist. Hamilton: Waikato Museum of Art and History.