Almost Serious, Fane Flaws

 25 September – 14 October 2017, Arts Inc, Hastings

Flaws’ curiously titled multi-media exhibition, which launched the Harcourts Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival in Hastings on Monday night, provides a fascinating  glimpse into the life of an artist better-known for his music. Yet the former Crocodiles guitarist, who penned the evergreen epic 1980 Kiwi pop song “Tears”, has been a graphic artist for a lot longer than he was a professional musician.

It was a remark by another artist who said Flaws was “this close to being a serous artist” that inspired the latter’s working retrospective for the festival. It spans 48 “blundered” years of Flaws’ artistic output, from a design-school pen-and-ink drawing to a just-completed “found surface assemblage”.

The exhibition is a collection of more than 150 works, many of them briefly repatriated from their current owners:  there’s plenty there if one’s hoping to peer into the artist’s soul, certainly sufficient to divine his many influences (by his own admission Flaws is impressionable).

Heading the catalogue, “Self portrait as an almost serious artist” (Flaws’ response to that implied rebuke) stands at the entrance like a commissionaire, and it soon becomes apparent that the exhibition’s title is self-evident. A uniting feature of the show with its array of styles, and motifs, such as the “psychedelic id” series, the inscrutable and strangely compelling “bird”, as well as the many sculptures of found objects that are quintessentially Kiwi – scuffed Formica, old hand tools and bits of pegboard is so “us” –   is Flaws’ cheering lack of earnestness and gentle parody. Which is not to mean he shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Flaws has an affectionate touch that is difficult to resist. And while there is plenty of wit, as in “Idiot Bastard Self”, “Secret Men’s Business” and the eight-part “Dangerous Kitchen” series, when he does take a serious turn there’s more whimsy than acerbity. Take “New Model” (2008 – paint and found object assemblages). A comment on consumerism and the brevity of temporal pleasures, it might also even be a dig at those plaques bearing empty kitchen aphorisms churned out by factories in China: “Who can imagine the next step that will render this razor-sharp system obsolete . . . who can remember the joy we took to last year’s new model”. Succinct as it is memorable.

With many of the works inspired by, and including, Flaws’ friends, past and present, there is an intimate story of discovery, invention and inspiration here. Throughout the festival Flaws will be working at the exhibition in a studio “action painting”, and as a bonus he is performing many of his own songs with a live band.  Seriously, two more very good reasons to go along.

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