A year after his death, artist Julian Dashper is honoured by a show that continues the debate about his work.

Julian Dashper died a year ago, and the fact that the anniversary is being marked by shows in Auckland, Towoomba in Australia and Minus Space in Brooklyn, New York, shows the way the conversation created by his art continues.

To write this piece, I take a lesson from Dashper: have a strategy, but be prepared to go with the flow. The first strategy is to appropriate some of his friend and colleague Ian Jervis' speech at the opening:

"Julian was fascinated with the idea of being a professional artist and the idea of an artist's oeuvre which might be subsumed as history," said Jervis.

"The romance of art historical narratives captivated him, especially those associated with the rise of modernism, the struggle of pioneer modernists in New Zealand, the triumph of abstract expressionism in America, the grand international project of modernism.

"In his own work, he referenced artists and artworks associated with these narratives and he deliberately highlighted the idea of the artist's career. The sentiment encompassed both the regional and aspired to the international. Both Cass railway station and the Rothko chapel were main sites of pilgrimage for Julian."

Curator Ariane Craig Smith has made a sensitively judged selection, touching on many aspects of Dashper's output without getting bogged down in any one area.

The first decade, when he was seen as an exciting neo-expressionist painter (even though his conceptualist roots were hidden in plain sight below the scumblings and the thick wadges of oil paint squeezed straight from the tube), is represented by a single gorgeous painting on velvet.

There's a later, paint-splattered drumkit, the painting of which can be found in a very funny clip on YouTube.

And then there's Portrait of Ben Curnow, a restaging of a 2004 installation at the short-lived Canary Gallery in Karangahape Rd, which consisted of curator Ben Curnow sitting at a desk.

If you can't talk to the artist, talk to the art, so sitting on a kitset Donald Judd chair, I ask Curnow how it differs from the original.

"It's very different because Julian's not here. While there was a sense of collaboration in the way the work was conceived, it was Julian's work and he was in the wings even if he was not present in the gallery," Curnow says.

"I noticed at the opening a lot of people didn't know how to react. Some people thought it was an information desk. A few people came over and sat down and had a chat, which is what it is all about, rather than being on display. It's a very different context. I'm not the only thing in the space, so it is a lot more comfortable for me."

Curnow's collaborations with Dashper started in 2003 when the artist had a residency at Artspace in Sydney, where Curnow was then living.

"There were so many aspects to Julian's thinking about art that he couldn't always find the way to channel that thinking into art works but I think from a few conversations we had, we hit on a wavelength. This work recognises I understood that aspect of his work.

"There's always a question of where you take it back to with Julian because by the time something bubbles to the surface, what seems like a simple or even glib idea, like to paint a circle on a canvas or to put slides of your work on the wall, by the time you get to that idea there's a whole lot of points of origin.

"At the opening of the Canary Gallery show, someone came up and said, 'Isn't this so clever, it's a take on the Portrait of Betty Curnow [by Rita Angus] in the Auckland City Art Gallery,' and both Julian and I were surprised - pleased but surprised, and if that becomes the salient feature in the public perception of the work, then well and good. It's not actually the origin of the idea. That's not to say it's the wrong idea but it is an interesting idea and it makes perfect sense in terms of Julian's references to Rita Angus and so on."

Betty Curnow was Ben Curnow's grandmother.

"I remember Julian saying at the time, after the work had opened at Canary, 'I don't know what it means yet,' and it wasn't like that was a problem. To the contrary, that was what made it from the artist's point of view, that's when you get that feeling you have created something that is really great. That's the art of it. Whatever this means, it's interesting. He was always looking ahead in a way to keep the process of art making alive for himself."

As we discuss some of Dashper's strategies for making art, the battery on the recorder runs out. This seems fitting. Blue Circles, the series of lathe cut polycarbon discs displayed in the side room, record the ambience in front of Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles at the Australian National Gallery in Canberra ... in shorter and shorter chunks as Dashper's mini-disc, low on battery, kept cutting out.

Curnow says Dashper had the ability to cut to the chase.

"If curatorial validation or endorsement is desired as the outcome of the work, why not cut to the chase and put a curator as readymade in the gallery and let the work speak for itself? There's that 1992 work of Julian's in Art Forum, Art From New Zealand, where he bought the ad space. It was the idea of cutting to the chase where if you were a famous artist you would have a full-page ad, that defined that you had 'made it'.

"I think that Julian's under-rated in this country at the same time he is well known. A lot of people don't take him seriously. There has always been a jokey aspect, the way people have written about the work. They see the superficial aspect of it.

"When I spoke to Julian in Sydney when he had the residency, I said upfront I found a lot of the writing about him was not my cup of tea. I didn't want to buy into this joking around with national identity and all the ironic references

"Because I had not been part of New Zealand art for some time, I saw it from a distance so I saw that writing as playing to a local audience. "

Curnow says Dashper's interest in American minimalist Donald Judd, and his 2001 residency at Judd's Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, is a clue to the high seriousness behind Dashper's endeavour, and also marked a turning point for his work.

"When he arrived at Marfa they said there's no requirement to produce any work, we just want you to be an artist and if you want to take the time writing poems or learning to play the mouth organ, just do it.

"I think that was a pivotal thing because it's a great thing, you're validated just because you're an artist."

EXHIBITION
What: Julian Dashper: Professional Practice

Where and when: Gus Fisher Gallery, 74 Shortland St, until August 28

Events:

Walking tour of Dashper's favourite Auckland modernist landmarks, with Linda Tyler, today from the Gus Fisher Gallery, 1pm

Exhibition response, with Jim Barr, August 7, 1pm

Live performance with Gate and Rachel Shearer, August 13, 7pm

Artist-musician Michael Morley on the relationship between painting and music, August 14, 1pm

John Reynolds, Judy Darragh, Ian Jervis pay tribute, August 21, 1pm

Screening of the Simone Horrocks-Richard Flynn documentary My Space, created with Julian Dashper, August 28, 1pm

- NZ Herald