Still: Bernard Winkels and John Lancashire

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16 August - 6 September, Muse Gallery, Havelock North
By Michael Hawksworth

Winkels and Lancashire have focused their new split show around and against the ‘still life’ genre. During its first heyday in 16th and 17th Century Netherlands, the objects depicted in any arrangement were weighted with symbolic meanings so the compositions could be easily ‘read’ by audiences of the day as moral meditations or correctives. So if there was a human skull or an hourglass or a half-peeled lemon anywhere in the painting, well… let’s just say it would have earned its keep in the waiting room of a life insurance company.

The objects in these new works operate in the same way, but with a greater degree of ambiguity. The way we interpret representational paintings now has as much to do with how the thing has been painted as what the depicted thing is.

John Lancashire’s flowers are often laid down on the canvas in loose gestural smudges as if not quite making it to tangible materialisation: ghost blooms. This approach predominates in the smaller works where the pinks and peaches of the petals glimmer from darkened undefined spaces. Lancashire is a beautiful technician with the paint. The greatest enjoyment is to get up close to these works and see an elegantly crafted paint language transposing tones effortlessly between layers.

As the scale of the work increases, so too do the sculptural qualities of the forms and the structural elements of the composition. Tabletops and vases begin to dissect the shallow space into blocks and sometimes you find yourself wanting the resultant compositions to be just a little more eccentrically wonky or fetishistically formal. Maybe it’s because these works remind me so much of the kind of mid-century modernism one might find in the more discerning retro boutique, I feel like they should play more expressively, even mischievously with the form.

Bernard Winkels’ new paintings craftily place still life’s compositional props onto the stage of landscape art. There’s a crude explorative vigour about the resultant hybrids that is as much to do with his kooky off-kilter composition as it is about his improvisational and physical paintwork. While John Lancashire is a painter in the pure sense, Winkels seems more of a drawer who’s found a method of painting to accommodate it without sacrificing visceral immediacy. As a matter of fact, these images have that super haptic bas relief quality that those antique metal fire guards have. This is probably accentuated by the total insistence on monochrome sepia, relieved at moments by additional mouldings of grey.

All this aligns the work strongly with the world of home made craft, rather than fine art per se. As a result, there is an authenticity to the pictures’ vases and kete and grails overflowing with clumps of unspoiled native forest, magically transported into NZ’s farm-razed present from the deep past as if their containers were time machines wished into existence by the artist. It’s as personal and moving a comment on issues swirling around Te Mata as you’re likely to encounter.

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