Young artists have a penchant to shock

By TJ McNamara

At a time when high-profile art fairs are showcasing established artists, what are the young artists up to?


Those early in their career are often seeking a style they can call their own or seeking a subject that will shock. At the Vavasour Godkin Gallery, Matthew Dowman has an exhibition called Beautiful Decay, which runs until September 10.


His paintings are blends of fragmented images, many stencilled on the canvas and including animals - tigers, kangaroos, dinosaurs - emerging from a maze of patterns based on fabric and lace.

It looks improvised but is pulled into an intricate unity by trails of paint and delicate pastel colours. The effect is to make veils of perception about the way things repeat themselves and collage together things both natural and artificial to make up a stylish perception of life.

In a work like Opium for the People there is a dense and intricately painted irregular area of what looks like plant cells and this is matched with tigers straight out of advertising. It is a richly decorative work but the title suggests something more.

A nearby canvas is called Citizen Erased. Here there are endless hearts like those of Valentine's Day, matched with anonymous figures under umbrellas.

If the title and the umbrellas are intended as some sort of social comment, then it is a very muted one.

It is as if things in the artist's memory are stimulated by chancing on some found form, usually a stencil that is a visually effective design for roses, octopuses or tigers, then tumbling them together on the canvas. It is reminiscent of the collages of American Robert Rauschenberg, but Dowman's work is sweeter, more smooth. Nothing really jars. The work shows a fine talent but lacks the fine savagery appropriate to the young.

Perhaps the energy is to be found elsewhere. It is typical of the variety of the Auckland art scene that Dowman, while having a major show at an establishment gallery, also has work at the fringe gallery Dispute, in Karangahape Rd, that shows the work of graffiti artists and the street scene.

This time all the works are made by stencilling.

The dozen or so artists have been asked to produce a stencilled, sprayed image as a kind of self-portrait. They all pick up on advertising, although in a surprisingly retro way. The images recycle old advertising.

These images by Mathew - here Matt - Dowman are more focused. The artist is shown in his beanie as a heroic figure with street credibility though his surroundings are still pastel.

The most striking image is Andre Simpson's Erasso, which plays on the design of a Brasso can, but makes a point about the establishment trying to erase the work of the street artist. Sparrow Philips, whose street name is Component, also makes good design use of a can to show that he is defined by his spray painting.

For the really savage bit you have to turn to Evan Woodruffe, whose work is at Oedipus Rex Gallery until September 9.

This is his second show and as in his previous one, there is a deliberate concern to shock. This exhibition is called Lost Blue Heaven and is full of savage sexual relations, tension and exploitation. The painting called Death shows a dark face, paradoxically with blue eyes, confronting black darkness.

The work ranges from the melancholy of Wish You Were Here, of a woman drinking from a bottle, through a picture of an addict with a purple tongue prominently thrust out in Trying for Heaven, to the confrontation of a manipulating old man with an open fly terrifying a young woman in Scavenger.

As in the very different work of Dowman, the paintings are big. These are confident young painters.

The confidence also shows in the attack of the brushwork and Woodruffe's palette of colours is as thick and discordant as his subject matter.

All these paintings are like illustrations to some lurid story of sexual grotesqueness. They are not comfortable but they do have strength enough to have a horrid fascination.

There is a second exhibition at Oedipus by David Sarich, whose hazy works have a great and obvious debt to Tony Fomison. The title of the show is Catch My Spirit if I Should Fall and the works, in a variety of shapes, are at their best when they are long rectangles which show a mysterious spirit form hovering over a dark landscape with hints of light in the sky and beyond the hills.

They are uniformly brown, which matches their mood of extreme melancholy. The show creates a world where nothing matters except the brooding spirit.

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