I began painting some time around 1998/99 and the first public exhibition of my painting was in 1999, in Kingsland, Auckland. The show was divided into two groups of work.
The first group were black and white acrylic paintings on paper and canvas, representing the simplified street maps around the area where I was living at the time. Khyber Pass, Symonds Street, K Rd, Cross Street, Grafton Bridge. These were painted in a way that referenced the visual language of Colin McCahon, however the predetermined composition of the street grids, as well as the stencilled street names, came more from thinking about Jasper Johns.
The first painting I ever looked at and felt I truly understood in a way that was completely intuitive and personal, was a triptych on paper by Colin McCahon at the Auckland Art Gallery. It seemed to not only directly suggest the commercial and industrial landscape of central Auckland at the time, but also the unknown, somewhat paranoid atmosphere surrounding the end of the 20th century. It was at that point, that painting went from becoming something in a museum I couldn’t understand, to something that had the power to communicate in a very unique way.
Through learning more about McCahon and encountering of his work, I subsequently became interested in the New York Abstract Expressionists who had influenced him. It was paintings, more or less sampling and borrowing from the ideas of many of these artists, which formed the second group of works in my first exhibition. I continued to develop this kind of abstract painting for about the next year or so, until through looking increasingly at pop art, figuration began to dominate.
In 2002 I moved to live in Fukuoka, Japan. I had always been interested in Japanese arts and culture and had previously been there on holiday at the end of 1999. When I arrived in Japan in 2002, painting didn’t fit in with what I was experiencing. Everything was moving so fast. It was the true explosion of the internet, digital video and photography was everywhere. I saw for the first time, a friend’s cellphone that also had a camera built in. Everything was changing and the pace and formality of painting felt too slow. I did however do the first painting in which I traced the outlines of a work directly from an LCD monitor onto paper and then impressed into board. An evolving method of tracing images would continue throughout the next decade of my work.
In late December 2004, I moved to Yokohama. This was the city my good friend Kosuke (Ko) Masuda was from and we had been friends since meeting in Auckland a couple of years earlier. Ko had graduated Elam and then returned to complete a year’s trading as a Shingon Buddhist monk at Koya-san. Following this training he returned to his family’s temple in Yokohama and as well as his monk duties, also began to paint again. It was sharing Ko’s small 3 x 3m prefab studio on the temple grounds, where I also returned to painting after what had been about an 18 month break. Since early 2005 I have continued an almost daily practice of painting.
2005 was an extremely important year for me as well as my painting. Ko and I were both finalists in an art award at the Kyoto Museum and we received a studio residency and exhibition at the impressive and fairly newly opened BankART Yokohama facilities.
At that time of my life and in that place, everything was extremely visual for me. The contrast with New Zealand was impossibly overpowering and all of my paintings began to incorporate what I encountered. Based on figures from ukiyo-e and updated to contemporary hairstyles and fashion as well as compositional ideas from screen paintings, I began to create all over landscape paintings on wood populated with these figures and trees and birds.
Upon returning to New Zealand in late 2006, I staged a one night exhibition with photographer Jos Wheeler at a friend’s warehouse in Grey Lynn. I sold the 20 works I had brought back from Japan and subsequently began to work with two galleries; a small fledgling one based in downtown Auckland and the other very established one in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. I was almost immediately able to start taking part in shows throughout the country and continued to sell work.
In 2007, Sir James Wallace bought his first painting from me. It was a tiny triptych. He would go on to continue to support me over the following years, with fourteen works now in the collection. In 2008 I shared a small studio in Kingsland with the painter Kirstin Carlin. Although our work was almost the total opposite of each other’s, it was an enjoyable and very productive time. I made the work for my first solo show after Japan and became a finalist in the Wallace art Awards for the first time, having previously tried and failed in the two previous years. The work, which was a large painting and drawing taken from a Dolce & Gabbana advertisement. It was included in the salon des refuses and subsequently became the second work in the Trust collection.
I made a handful of paintings based on this style of drawings from magazines, but the vast majority of my work at this time was based on stained plywood, using the woodgrain as a basis for landscapes. Now peopled with a hybrid of Japanese memories and New Zealand experience. An early 2008 painting titled, “Picnic on the Grass”, was the first work I did in this way.
At the end of 2008, as the global financial crisis hit and galleries began to fold, I decided to move to Sydney. During the three years I lived overlooking Rushcutters Bay park, this style of landscape painting developed further. I subsequently began to work with a dealer in Sydney and then concentrated on a dealer in New Zealand who I would continue to work with for the next 6 or 7 years. It was not until midway through 2017, that the way I considered images and materials would fundamentally change.
The large work, “Future Fund” was the culmination of my time in Sydney. It was again selected as a finalist in the Wallace Awards and this time became part of the traveling exhibition. “Future Fund” is also significant because it is the first major work to include areas of sanding as a means of both disintegrating and partly concealing the image.
Another work done in Sydney around the same time, “The Value of Persistence”, became quite a one-off in this regard, as it contained for the first time, a large area of thick, layered paint which was again partially sanded back. I became struck by how evocative and suggestive of image this random sanding became, but again it was not until 2017 that I would revisit this idea.
After returning to Auckland in late 2011, I began working towards my first New Zealand solo show in a number of years. I believe that many of the works done in the second half of 2012 were the best examples of landscape painting I ever did.
Towards the end of 2012, I made the painting “Infinity Pool”, which remains one of my most favourite works. Besides the image and the shifting manner in which I was starting to use the wood grain, the work contains large areas of bare wood, sanded right back and left for the first time.
In December 2012 I moved to Busan, South Korea and lived there for 6 months. The resulting works I made there further reduced and refined my painting, increased the use very thin stains of colour and also sanding. They were the peak of this six year period of landscape work, first started upon my return from Japan.
Returning to Auckland in 2013, the following works took a different turn. Gone was almost all of the sanding and instead images were heavily planned in Photoshop and traced and painted almost monochromatically in very thin applications, concentrating on shadow. This body of work remains quite unique, as it’s glassy, misty almost transparent surfaces played a stark contrast to the sanded works. These works peaked with “State of origin”, a large and very dreamy painting based on an image of a forest outside Glenorchy.
These glassy, reflective, muted paintings were extremely evocative of memory for me, particularly my time in Asia. They further refined with thin glazes and almost photographic scenes into 2014.
At the beginning of 2015 I moved to Queenstown, which was the one place in New Zealand I constantly thought about during the decade I was overseas. I have now lived in Queenstown for two and a half years. After decades of cramped living in big, polluted cities, I am now constantly grateful to breathe the freshest air in the world and be surrounded by some of the most incredible natural scenery anywhere. As a landscape painter, moving somewhere like this was somewhat visually overwhelming in an entirely different way to how Japan had been. The mountains and lakes here are virtually untouched, the light and colours are never the same from one moment to the next. The seasons are perfectly individual. 10 minutes drive from my house and I can be alone and completely immersed in nature.
I received the opportunity for an exhibition for the TSB Bank Wallace Arts centre in Auckland, which would again be divided into two groups – half all new work and the other half, works from the collection spanning over a decade. The exhibition culminated an extremely difficult two year period, in which my output had been drastically reduced due to the illness and passing of my brother. The new works for this show were started not long after my brother’s death in July and were all completed by the end of November. I worked quickly and with a new approach, allowing the pouring and mixing and chance reactions of numerous bright and vibrant pigments to form on the surface of the board. From there, I was able to envision landscape forms as I had done previously with the wood grain.
After the conclusion of that show, I have concentrated solely on the studio and chose to stop working with my previous galleries. I felt I was heading in a direction that was no longer my own and that the only way to find that again, was to stop exhibiting and concentrate on allowing the work to take its course.
The resulting period was one of intense experimentation where almost each work looked different to the previous. With no consideration for creating a body of work or any type of exhibition, I was free to once again return to the very essence of what I enjoyed about painting. Increasingly, most often out of abandoning works and wanting to reuse the board, I was sanding very often and in doing so, started to actually become equally as interested in the act of removing paint.
Amidst all of this natural splendour, I have once again found myself slowly leaving images behind and focusing on the mostly abstract painting where I first started. Thinking again of those old New York paintings from the 1950s.
The works I made for “The New Landscape” show involved numerous layers of poured, very intense pigments and it was through sanding away some of these abandoned works, that two very significant paintings suddenly took this idea forward.
It was now only a few weeks ago, during the final stages of making of the work that would go on to become “Axiom” (2017), that I experienced what I can only describe as a fundamental shift in my understanding about painting. For the first time, I felt image and material join into something I had never anticipated. For that reason, I consider “Axiom” to be maybe the most important painting I have ever done. If only solely for the reason that it was during this work where everything suddenly made sense. I feel that there is a clear and distinct separation between every painting I made before this work and now every painting I will make after.
The paintings I am making now may look radically different to what I was doing a few years before, yet it directly connects back to my beginning. It has reached this point in a constantly evolving way over seventeen years. Each work contains fragments of every step along the way. I am still painting intuitively and it is still developing. I feel like I am back at the very start, thinking again of the works I was making in Auckland at the turn of the 21st century. However, instead of trying to make something and thinking about how to make it, I am now able to just make it. Everything is intuitive, nothing is planned. Paint is applied thicker than ever. It is left as is, or scraped, or sanded away. There is no longer a distinction between image and materials, something that needed to be in order to learn about each of these aspects over the past decade.
It is very easy to mock abstract expressionism and the seriousness connected with it, perhaps rightfully so. Pop Art did this perfectly but the resulting legacy of jokey, bad painting made by adolescents who graduate as artists still continues.
Yet at the core of what these old abstract painters were doing is something that remains perhaps more vital than it has been at any time since the 1950s. The internet and digital technology has greatly influenced painting in a number of ways and as such, many contemporary artists feel the need to directly reference that in their work. Some even paint like robots, seemingly without the awareness that it is the robots themselves who will soon be doing the best paintings.
As such, human painting needs to once again return to what defines it. Handmade scribblings, which wether image or not, go directly back to the caves. The materials and the image and the technique need to be what only painting can be.