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Pure Guava at Skinroom

“Skinroom” is an apt name given to a new gallery recently opened in Hamilton, in the suburb of Frankton. The place had a former life as a tattoo parlour and now it’s given over to art of a different kind – no hearts with daggers plunged into them or dusky maidens in various stages of undress by moonlit beaches. Nothing as clichéd as that, though such could be employed these days at the ‘high’ art end, if treated with irony and the knowing smile.

Director of the new gallery, Geoff Clarke (Wintec tutor and art theoretician) might want to dispute the above assertion and claim that the vernacular should be accepted on its own terms without any snooty placement of quotation marks.

None are employed in this latest exhibition called “Pure Guava”. And yet with a title like that I sense a delicious irony lurking somewhere in the shrubbery. I can feel the quotation marks coming on.

And yet, perhaps we should take this drink straight because the overall sense of the show from the five artists involved is one of humility of product, or certainly humility of means.

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Orange Cluster, Chelsea Pascoe, 2015, pigment and polyurethane on tissue paper, various dimensions. 

First up is Chelsea Pascoe with her pigments on tissue paper smothered in polyurethane. A new sense of subtly as well as compositional complexity has emerged in her work which engages with a fresh pictorial delicacy. Pink and White Composition includes refined grid formats while the splotches of colour inform the space in controlled yet spontaneous ways. The salute to abstraction has given these new delicately stained tissues a novel edge.

On large sheets of paper, one of them taking up a whole stretch of the gallery wall, Caro Fotofili has crowded together a million dots of paint. These immediately recall the motifs used by indigenous Aboriginal Australian artists, but there the comparison ends. These delicate watercolour creations weave undulating forms within clusters that move surreptitiously through the painting like eddies and elusive waves. One title, Slithy Toves, references the opening lines of Lewis Carroll’s, Jabberwocky, and its companion piece with its equally surreal title, Haunting for the Snark, hails from the same author and is a tour de force of painterly work. Five meters long, it calls on planetary forms and biomorphic configurations among a universe of white dots.

Grunge is on show in the form of Abee Jensen’s early Bill Hammond look-alike in monochrome black, all spiky and aggressive, painted on the side of a sliding door still possessed of its rollers. But the artist’s work entitled, Satisfactory, is much more than the name implies. A predominately large black painting on canvas, it is full of wild, bold and explosive energy with hints of colour among the slashing brush stroke, recalling the best of Willem de Kooning.

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Earth Telephone & Double Happy, Philip McIllhagga, 2016, enamel of ply, 2x24x240mm..

Philip Mcllhagga has shifted from his huge mural-like hangings to very diminutive works on ply board, but they carry the same hybrid notations that revel in the oeuvre of Pop meets abstract. His circles, grids, dots, zig-zags, saw-tooth formations and labyrinthine concentric rings pack the same kind of punch and raw vital energy crammed inside a small space where control and abandon vie for supremacy. 18 works in total are given the name, Glossolalia by Proxi. The spirit has moved Mcllhagga and, hallelujah; he has spoken in tongues by the power of the ‘Lord’. This divine gibberish needs interpretation, of course, and since the artist is using the language of art history practice, he speaks by proxy, requiring some theological unpacking.

Rachel Peary’s acrylic biomorphic monochromatic forms on large plastic sheets also have their precursors that come out somewhere between Arshile Gorky and André Masson. Their abstract independence on unassuming transparent materials provides them with a new adamant, singular force.

Great show, never mind the quotation marks.

Peter Dornauf

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