Saturday morning, sleet coming down outside, 3 kids running about, squealing, bickering. Up since 6am, by 10:30 I am ready to do a Captain Oates and escape out into the snow – “I may be some time”.
I head into Dunedin to “All Our Days”, the new Nigel Brown exhibition at Milford Galleries. I was wanting to come at 2:30pm for the artists talk but this is desperation. I am deadly afraid of dealer galleries and I scurry past Brett McDowell’s even though I’d love to have a good look at the Hotere’s I see through the window.
At least no one is around in the gallery and mostly I am left to look at the pictures in peace. An assistant appears and advises I’ve just missed the artist (rats) but to come back for the talk. I don’t bother to explain that because of my early departure, I have promised to take my kids to the Taieri Poultry & Pigeon show* this afternoon instead.
I know some don’t care for Brown and consider him a bit “samey”. I don’t share this view and enjoy what I think of as exploration of ideas and themes, which I guess others consider repeditive. I like the iconography. The first painting I see is “Hadley Octant” with the words “With my Hadley octant my Colin McCahon my mana my place worked out“, a McCahon lamp and a sample of the play on the McCahon “I AM” in ‘where are we“. I haven’t seen much of Brown’s recent work but I am intrigued by this wordplay.
Very recently I had a discussion regarding “I AM” ,which I was writing about at the time as a personal guiding phrase, in comparison to “WE ARE” which has such a different weight and meaning. Personally I think you have to be fairly assured in “I AM”, before you can become fully a part of “WE ARE”.
So it was really interesting to me to see in a very large title painting (an image you can’t ignore) “All Our Days”, the “WE ARE” as part of a collection of who we are – or perhaps who Brown is. Oddly (to me) this painting also includes Ned Kelly. I would have liked to hear more about that reference, which also appears spliced with Cook in “Who’s Who”. Glenn Colquhoun, in the catalogue (available on line, or on CD) writes that this painting shows “a wider New Zealand society…holding court in our consciousness along with all that has shaped our landscape, our arts and our culture.” which is a fairly ambitious statement. I like it, but then I am partial to Brown’s Baxter paintings. I also identify with the woman with broom, kids hanging off her.
I don’t know if there was a pick of the bunch, but funnily a painting called “Resonate”, resonated. “Even in two hundred years (if this building still stands) I’ll be gone, You’ll be gone, but this moment will resonate“. I’ve been writing about home, and sense of place so this keys into my current thoughts.
Its really worth seeing this exhibition or downloading the .pdf catalogue. I found something in almost every image that I liked. I am not so sure of inclusion of metallic paints (the gold/bronze on “All Our Days”) and paua shell eyes (although a reference to Maori carvings), but I did love the cast bronze Cook tiki. In an article in the latest Listener Malcolm Burgess questions whether too many “Cooks” spoil the broth. Like him, I agree that they don’t.
Again as Colquhoun puts it “In lots of ways though they are not really images – they are a language. Really they are words. Nigel Brown places them in relation to each other as if he was writing a poem…Brown’s paintings think aloud”
NIGEL BROWN All Our Days (2007/08) (from Milford Galleries website)
*which was pretty good too actually
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