Artspace

Bright Paradise

Paul Morrison

Tony De Lautour, Ian McDonald, Paul Morrison, Paul Sietsema

March - April 2001

Curated by Allan Smith

The 1st Auckland Triennial is a joint project with Auckland Art Gallery and the University of Auckland, with support from Chartwell Trust, Sue Fisher Art Trust, IFA, British Council, City Life, and Aalto Colour

 

New Zealanders are well placed to speculate on the disturbing beauty of artificial paradises and the fateful allure of utopian desire. Our historical imagination is illuminated by dreams of white clouds and natural bounty, by memories of Pacific Plenty, South Seas utopias and burst South Seas bubbles. Physically located in the South Pacific but imaginatively split between visions of local and global culture, we have distinctive perspectives on the rich mix of beauty and anxiety that characterise contemporary speculations about paradise and history. Curated by Allan Smith, Bright Paradise tracks narratives of exploration, discovery, travel, leisure, image collections and technologies within a matrix of loss and longing. The show includes around thirty artists, with ten of these coming from offshore. The show is split between three venues: Artspace, the New Gallery and Kenneth Myers Centre at Auckland University. Artspace will be presenting works by Paul Morrison, Paul Sietsema, Ian McDonald and Tony De Lautour.

 

British artist Paul Morrison paints his cut-and-paste pastoral idyll on canvas or massively enlarged on the wall in black on white. Morrison's imagery has a found, generic feel: he scours botanical guides, children's storybooks and cartoons for source material. Tree, flower, fence and field motifs are arranged to create impossible hybrid scenes. Referencing pop art, op art, Disney, neo-romantic bookplate illustrations, and Aubrey Beardsley graphics, Morrison's trippy Pop landscapes flirt with abstraction—they are riddled with formal conceits. A precise realistic silhouette will sit next to a stylised logo. Foliage and wood grain swirl in dizzying op-art patterns. Havoc is played with scale and distance. His bucolic scenes look like backgrounds for cel animations, waiting for the action to be added. You expect Elmer Fudd to walk on at any moment. Pointedly, sections of fence frame or obscure views of the landscape, adding to the sense that we are looking at a contrived, commodified form of nature. The wilderness has been tamed into a synthetic experience—a themepark. Morrison's hallucinated, fantasy environments pivot between innocence and malevolence in the blink of an eye.

 

Contrived and artificial nature is the ostensible subject matter of L.A. artist Paul Sietsema's 1998 work Beautiful Place, a nineteen-minute 16mm movie. Eight vignettes present artificial flowers and gardens the artist meticulously constructed in his studio from paper, foam, wire and paint. Flowers may be loaded subject matter—symbols of purity, sex and death - but the film is not really about flowers. Rather it is a serene formal exercise that uses images of an artificial botany to reflect on vision, time and representation. Giovanni Intra describes the work as a "minuscule epic". Bruce Hainley calls it "a botanical autopsy of the imaginary".

 

Bright Paradise addresses paradise lost as much as found. Christchurch's Tony De Lautour's "revisionist history" paintings are naive antique-shop landscapes overrun by an imagined cast of characters. At the heart of their sylvan glades or on their ferny riverbanks, we often find a map of New Zealand as an open grave. Cut deep into the soil, De Lautour's death maps of national history are surrounded by human bones, as though the whole country were still participants in psychic if not actual cannibalism. Alongside them, Ian McDonald's photographs of beached whales, dead and decomposing on Muriwai beach from the late 1970s, read as indices of social and psychic trauma.