The Carnival is Over
From Christchurch Art Seen [April 2020]
I can’t think of a much more appropriate title than The Carnival is Over as New Zealand leaves Level 4 later tonight. Whether you have enjoyed your time in your bubble, or barely made it through, we can all be proud of doing our bit and surviving the last 33 days.
Todays art bite features an image by local artist David Woodings, who has been working on a suite of soft pastel on paper works.
Woodings last solo show in Christchurch was the Merrily go around exhibition at Chambers Gallery in 2018, featuring large oil on canvas photorealist carousel-based imagery. Some of you will also remember his Somme/Silk Road series of WW1 silk card based imagery which formed part of commemorative works for family who fought on the Somme in WW1. He exhibited these at Chambers Gallery with Philip Trusttum and Eion Stevens as part of a group show in 2019.
Woodings has returned to a familiar genre of large-scale chalk pastel on paper with his new body of work The carnival is over, having used this medium on many occasions throughout his career. He first exhibited as one of Four photo realists in 1978 at the Peter Webb Gallery in Auckland and has maintained this photorealist painting style throughout that career, his subject matter underpinned by a social history narrative of storytelling.
While continuing to use familiar imagery The carnival is over suite of works maintain his legacy of storytelling, used here as an analogy for the Anthropocene. This has been a key interest for the artist since his summer stays at Cape Evans in Antarctica in the late 1980s. Here, Woodings compiling a digital inventory of the material in the heritage huts, and spent time with the Greenpeace team of scientists who maintained a base at the Cape during those years.
Merrily Go Around is a suite of 5 works exhibited at Chambers Gallery in September 2018, and will be exhibited in June 2019 at the Wallace gallery in Morrinsville.
Each pertains, in an allegorical sense, to the notion that carousels function in the same way as the political process where riders wait until everyone has boarded and the music plays before the ‘animals’ begin to circle. The carousel, as a circular ride, results in the ‘riders’ not knowing whether they are leading, following, in the front or the back of any perceived ‘race’, which can stop at any time, the ‘rider’s replaced with any other participant in the dance.
Each work has an allegorical set of references for each ‘party’ and features providing a narrative. Generally, each carousel animal is pointing in the political affiliation direction [left or right leaning] of the selected image. The animals are named (although not in each instance) for their affiliation and have specialised characteristics (detailed below) to provide further narrative. Each is titled to further attribute a reference to the imagery.
The empty vessel has the loudest sound (illustrated here) is an image chosen to represent the New Zealand First politician Winston Peters. Allegorical features include the inclusion of a mining reference to ‘PR’ [Pike River 29’], the National Party-coloured sash cloth, the carved Ruru [wise old owl’) and the inclusion of a ‘Gold Card discount’. There is also a TV image of a racehorse which connects to the Ministry of Racing.
Other works in the suite are; The fourth of July, Only the inescapable is possible, Orewa Carnival, Edendale Primary School Gala September 2017.
Conscientious Objection Suite
The 2016 conscientious objection suite of 12 works completes the five suites of works commemorating 100 years since WW1 by Christchurch artist David Woodings. The first four suites comprised the exhibition ‘Somme/Silk Road’.
The narrative behind this four suites of cards was a soldier sending ‘silk’ cards home to his Father, his Mother, his Sister, and his girlfriend. This series was exhibited in Hamilton in April/May 2016 (to commemorate ANZAC Day) and then at the QEII National Army Museum in Waiouru September 2016 (to commemorate New Zealand’s entry into the campaign in September 1916) and will hang till February 2017.
Based on the historical ‘silk cards’ of WW1 these 12 images would not have been actual cards and hold a more subversive message about those who for a variety of reasons chose not to serve their country during the WW1 campaign. Each card, apart from Love to my Conchie Boy which approaches the issue of conscientious objection directly, is word or rhyme based and utilises the stitched embroidery of original cards whilst also accentuating colour, as Cowardy cowardy custard where the lettering is custard yellow, as is the yellow stitching of Yellow belly, the lettering for Chicken shit the green and white of foul droppings and in Pussy the flesh pink also includes a labia shape within the underline stitching.
In other cards in the series Lily livered floats on a card of lilies and both Chicken shit and Pigeon hearted feature bird characters, in the case of Pigeon hearted, the New Zealand Kereru. The White feather card mirrors the standard design for a New Zealand imaged silk card of WW1 era except that the traditional silver fern is replaced by a similarly shaped white feather. To my dear coward takes on an image of revision with a replacement term ‘glued’ over the original stitching to reflect the cards ‘new’ sentiment. Gutless takes the form of a rebus puzzle.
September 2016 – February 2017
New Zealand National Army Museum
This exhibition– through my embroidery styled photorealist painted silk cards, based on those crafted by women in France and Belgium during WW1 – traces the changing relationship with family by an unnamed soldier fighting on the Somme in 1916. Paintings of imaginary and real cards forwarded to his Father, Mother, Sister and girlfriend illustrate place, time and sentiment during one of World War One’s bloodiest battles. Dedicated to his grandfathers who both fought and were wounded on the Somme, the works are an intimate recording of messages received at distance from the front, and a poignant reminder of relationships strained by the nature of the messages.
After exhibition at Artspost in Hamilton in April/May 2016, the 50 works in the show are now scheduled for exhibition at the National Army Museum in Waiouru from September 2016 to February 2017.
I am grateful for the loan by the Waikato Museum and Barry Hopkins of the ‘Mother’s suite’ to complete the narrative of the show.
A Still life (plural Still Lifes) is a work depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, most typically commonplace objects which may be either natural (food, plants, rocks, shells) or man-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewellery, coins) or a combination of both. With origins in the Middle Ages and Ancient Greek/Roman art, still life paintings give the artist more leeway in the arrangement of design elements within a composition than do paintings of other types of subjects such as landscape or portraiture.
Still life paintings, particularly before 1700, often contained religious and allegorical symbolism relating to the objects depicted. Some modern still life breaks the two-dimensional barrier and employs three-dimensional mixed media, and uses found objects, photography, computer graphics, as well as video and sound. The rise of Photorealism in the 1970s reasserted illusionistic representation, while retaining some of Pop’s message of the fusion of object, image, and commercial product.
In this exhibition the term ‘Still Lives’ is not only a descriptive term for the composition of the image but also a statement of how static many peoples’ lives have become under the state imposed structures of earthquake recovery activities in Christchurch. The inability to move forward, particularly for those in red zone or TC3 areas from the earthquakes of 2010/2011, without often significant bureaucratic engagement, a commitment to loss or a single-focus to leave/relocate brought about by necessity – has resulted in a stagnation of purpose for many, me included. Lives that were previously driven by self-improvement, pride of place and action, now in perpetual on-hold status.
Interactions with monosyllabic call centres waiting for a meaningful conversation and decisions seemingly made on their behalf by entities whose personnel may or may not have my wellbeing as their primary focus. The life I previously felt I had some control over, made decisions about, and had freedom of location established around the liquidity of home ownership are all now conceptual notions determined under the legislature of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. Still Lives – Lives Still and for how long?
The Still Lives suite of works feature that which have been identified as insurance claim material – objects of opulence, beauty, craftsmanship and desire contrasted, using a limited palette, against the urbane and banal characteristics of a cardboard box, the juxtaposition to create an element of pathos in the images. The objects, original crafted one-off art/antique pieces now lost, enhance the perception of loss, the loss of cultural history, the irreplaceable and unique losses in events that affect beyond the boundaries of the broken city. The cardboard box, ordinary, utilitarian, yet representative of previous use, the wine now consumed, the thoughts of the recipient perhaps taken away for a few precious minutes from the tortures of ennui.
In an anonymous administrative procedure requested decisions of worth are further evaluated. The sum of your accumulated worth/loss rubber stamped, numbered and the images consigned to the file box of history in some forgotten archive, discarded as might the faded Polaroid of your meeting with Andy Warhol.
Then back to the endless days of waiting for decisions to be made, by other people, by my community, by me. The Groundhog Days of 2010 dreaming of having a ‘normal’ life again, not being able to perceive what that ‘normal’ will look like, yet knowing that it will never again be the life I lived before. Until then Still Lives, Lives Still.
Winners and Losers
Winners/Losers was a series created in 2012 [and there was some flow-on into 2013] which repeated the image of a coin operated horse (which I named ‘Silver’) over the 12 month period. 2012 was a year after the major Christchurch earthquakes and the city was beginning to feel the enormity of the task to get back on its feet. Much of the city was damaged, particularly the inner city and the eastern suburbs and decisions had already been made about the Red Zone [a vast track of land to the east of the city that would be taken over by the Crown with all land and dwellings to be bought by the Crown and a process of demolition had commenced.
For me, as an artist, there were fewer and fewer opportunities to exhibit in the city now almost bereft of dealer galleries and the rest of the country tiring of the images coming out of Christchurch through the MSM. Days started to feel the same and offered up few answers to everyday issues. Groundhog Day presented itself. This series of works is built around the notion of daily sameness but looks to enthusiasm for change. The painting of the same image repeatedly was therapeutic and in a funny way provided stability in a year that offered none in other quarters. Living in a house that required earthquake repairs, waiting in an invisible line of bureaucracy for decisions to be made for which, day by day, you had lesser control over the outcome, was debilitating for all.
Naming the coin operated horse ‘Silver’ enabled some degree of gilding the event. Making the cost of the ride 2/- [two shillings] (even though NZ had been decimal since 1967) was recognition of the Mayor of the day (Bob Parker), so the rides were ‘to bob’ or two shillings using Kiwi slang.
The work illustrated (below) is 30 Pieces of silver. The major piece in the series it has references to dwellings demolished in the Red Zone though numbering on the left hand edge, each number a real house/dwelling number. The numbers chosen, using a numerology counting sequence, number 1 to 30 without a duplicate number. The concept around the 30 pieces of Silver references the biblical with the payouts made by the Crown for damaged land.
Campbell Live filmed the works and interviewed me on the my state of mind after the earthquakes in a segment they titled The Recurring Horse Theme that you might still find on the internet.