T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

T.J. McNamara: Master reveals his depth

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Not Again by Ben Cauchi.
Not Again by Ben Cauchi.

The late Ian Scott, who died last year, has an important place in contemporary New Zealand art. The retrospective show of his work at Pah Homestead is mostly taken from the collection of Sir James Wallace.

Forty years of work can be seen here. They are all large and confident pieces, show strong draughtsmanship and speak about art with a number of stylistic changes, all excellent in their own genre and often practiaed simultaneously. The subject matter includes thoughts on the nature of painting and the practice of New Zealand artists.

As a young man, Scott began as a fine painter of landscape, notably of scenes in the Waitakeres, but art school took him beyond realism into implicit comment to give greater depth to his work.

An example here is New Zealand Triptych (1966) that matches a typical weatherboard house thrusting into a landscape alongside kauri and bush landscape with Mt Taranaki in the background. Its clean precision and tight composition add to the effect of its comment by juxtaposing things particular to this country.

Like most of his work, it is still fresh and relevant.

The next stage gained him wide recognition. It dealt with the aspirations of young women, done in a way redolent of pop art. It showed young women posed on the ground and floating in the air. International in style, perhaps, but the background depicted systems of tightly clipped hedges that reflect the tidiness of Epsom, the suburb where the artist lived. An element was phallic-looking trees - all trunk and small, sprouting tops. They reference the pollarded trees that line some Epsom streets.

The bright light, vivid blue skies and the attractiveness of the young women, some of them nude, contributed to the popularity of these works but the energetic nudity was found shocking in some quarters at the time. There is a splendid example in this show, Sky Steps (1969).

Sky Steps by Ian Scott.
Sky Steps by Ian Scott.

After these clever and approachable paintings, Scott moved into abstraction and evolved what he called "lattice" paintings, which put him at the cutting edge of abstract art. These paintings were achievable only by the use of masking tape, a new device. A superb example, Lattice No 150, from 1987, has a driving movement that makes it still up-to-date.

Such were Scott's skills that he could imitate any other artist, and when the lattice paintings were played through many variations he turned to the nature of painting itself and the artists who produced significant work. He used images Cezanne and Picasso had created and put portraits of the artists in with their work. More relevantly, he painted variations of the high points of achievement by New Zealand artists and incorporated their figures in them, along with huge lettering hanging in the space of the foreground that celebrated their place and insight.

Above all he paid homage to Colin McCahon, who had been his mentor. Portraits of McCahon are present in a number of works related to landscape, and New Zealand Crucifixion (1987) includes elements of the master's own landscape and religious figures, copied with slight modifications. Similar and equally impressive is New Zealand, Land of Promise (1995). These are massive, bold paintings, speech bubbles and all. Yet Scott was capable of the utmost delicacy. Auckland Morning (1974) is an abstract of soft slanting lines that catch the light and colour of the city.

The whole show makes a splendid tribute to a fine artist who played a big part in the short history of painting in this country.

The sculptures of Suji Park at Ivan Anthony are intriguing, uneasy works. This comes from the improvised nature of the pieces where the irregular and the irrational are made art by placing them on pedestals and gifting them with colour and even gold leaf.

In previous exhibitions the artist has shown improvised doll-like figures that look like they have been squeezed in the hand. These new works show the effect of being handmade but have been assembled to appear as random as rocks. Yet the natural feel is contradicted by features such as small arcades that are obviously architectural, and other pieces such as rawly made hand-thrown vases.

Most are accumulations of stones and shards of pottery, with a mixture of organic forms. They are grotesque but saved from ugliness by glittering substances such as bright ore and coloured spray-paint. The most sculptural is An IV, which incorporates bricks, and the most inventive is Mopsi on Mui that tempers the prevailing rockiness by hanging like a jewelled fruit topped by a tiny temple.

The exhibition is shared by David Cauchi. His small works have no overall theme but each presents a particular problem - atmosphere, perspective, portrait - and each is given a neat, dry solution.

- NZ Herald

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