Harry Human Heights
12 June - 28 July 2001
Who cares tomorrow about an idea we had entertained the day before? After any night, we are no longer the same, and we cheat when we play out the farce of continuity. The fragment, no doubt a disappearing genre, but the only honest one. —E.M. Cioran
John Reynolds' painting resists summary. When people write about his project, they invariably make lists. In one short catalogue entry Allan Smith once described Reynolds as intoxicated, indecorous, hedonistic, romantic, sublime, mythopoetic, dithyrambic, epic and visionary, excessive and cloying, satanic and heavenly, and restless; his compositions as turbulent, angelic, chromatic, shimmering and exfoliating, internally stressed, externally unhinged, and ornamental; his iconography as reminiscent of blood vessels and hallucinated architecture.
Reynolds regularly combines overblown scale - the public address scale of billboards - with an arcane personal language, fugitive drawing style and obscure intentions. While the effect can be rich and ecstatic, materially the work can also be basic; it owes something to arte povera. Signs like crosses, scaffolds, veils, webs, knots, and roadsigns declare a fascination with pointers and a love of complexity, fragments.
In Harry Human Heights, Emily Kngawarreye meets Mondrian's Pier and Ocean. Two expansive rippling abstracts, fields of oil-stick hatchings nine metres wide, face off in the square gallery. One is titled Trading Hours and Various Materials, the other King for a Thin Day. Reynolds' obsessive repetition of an empty sign, overlapped and arrayed, creates shimmering spatial effects, a kind of fuzzy, deliquescent architecture.
In the other rooms there's a supplementary work, Epistemadologies, a relentless frieze of almost a hundred oilstick drawings offering varieties of information: road signs, graphics, patterns, nineteenth-century photograph titles, and poem excerpts. Perhaps this frieze is a commentary, or a "complaint", an axiom of exhaustion, a map to the concerns of the big paintings; or perhaps it's an accumulation of footnotes, cul-de-sacs.
Reynolds says, "The signposts are key. They all point right, they signal meaningfulness and direction, and yet their destination is never arrived at. I've used odd New Zealand streetnames. They have an allegorical, liturgical quality: Harry Human Heights through to Hope Street. Those names are august and portentous, and yet there's a buffoonery - something laughable and calamitous - about them."