Muse Gallery / Jan 26 - Feb 22 / By Roy Dunningham
I was astounded when, at the opening of his exhibition artist Wellesley Binding stated that he didn’t have an agenda in his work. For me it was loaded with agenda! To be fair he did add: “whatever is in your head comes out.” Certainly much of the content in these paintings appears intuitive, even impulsive and viewers are taken on a journey of the making process as much as consideration of the finished product.
Fragments of written text give a stream of consciousness into his thought lines as he works. These however are spare and cryptic and we sometimes struggle to unravel them like the men in “Herculaneum’’ who are also searching for something, we know not what. The impulsiveness shown in “The Empiricist” belies the meaning of its title as he delights in the way paint floods onto canvas and gravity creates random dribbles. It reminds us that whatever meanings we find in his work the artist’s driving force is probably the act of painting itself, the actual fascination with mark and image making. And again, like the protagonists in the picture we find ourselves searching for clues.
Binding has previously shown interest in shadowy power brokers who can manipulate the lives of others. The falling figures in ‘Krisis’ are monitored by raptor-like U.S. army drones, the ultimate in power, by remote control. A sinister looking corporate figure, complete with laptop, observes the unaware figures in “The Futurist”. The power agenda seems even more apparent in “Trap 4 (Historicists)’’ and “Trap 5 (Searchers)” where corporate Lilliputians have successfully tethered giant Gullivers but don’t seem to understand what they have done. One giant is further disempowered by a hood placed over his head.
Corporate sexism is alluded to in “Studies For The Manual” where men wear comfortably tailored suits while women risk hyperthermia and spinal damage in mini skirts and high heels.
When he wants to, Binding is a master landscape painter. “Early Morning’’ shows a Havelock North street in half light. The familiar lines of Te Mata Peak get the shock treatment of just a few rapid fire brushstrokes but it retains its dominant presence. Feeble points of light struggling against the darkness invite questions about the inhabitants: “Who are they? What sort of lives do they lead?” The tangle of people’s lives is anything but untangled in the painting of that name with its tragi-comic “loser” and lines that morph into snakes.
At the risk of being unfashionable, I find Binding’s paint handling and drawing skills a delight. An example is seen in the brilliantly expressive convulsing figures in “The Islandists”. For Binding, though technique is a means to an end not an end in itself. He does the painterly equivalent of a “throw away line” as well as anyone. These are paintings that pose many questions to the viewer and don’t indulge in easy answers but they can be read and if you are prepared to look and think you may find them immensely satisfying.
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