Brendan Jon Philip – 28 August, 2017
There is a sense of what these two are reaching for in the conversation between practices, but their disparate threads of enquiry lead them to conclusions that are struggling for synthesis. According to the exhibition text, this project is addressing fantasy as its driving notion. However their particular concerns and approach are left undefined, the theme an arbitrary buzzword more than a conceptual hook.
Fu-On Chung & Sam Thomas
Swirling Dream Wreck
2 August - 26 August 2017
There is always an unusual tension when a contemporary and experimental project space presents a show of painting. There is perhaps a need for long-dead painting to prove itself conceptually viable in the negotiational zone of these spaces. The need is a worthwhile one: painting needs to be challenged, experimented with, mercilessly toyed with, pulled apart and put back together with bits left over—just like everything else. Still, an underlying reaction towards painting seems to drive these particular experiments to be a little more brash and little more rash than the others.
Swirling Dream Wreck presents the work of Auckland-based Fu-On Chung and Sam Thomas, each in their own way negotiating the interface of painting with the broader field of contemporary practices. Friends and one-time studio mates, Thomas and Chung’s efforts appear in parallel through the two rooms of the gallery. The first exhibition space filled with luminous glow from sheets of golden foil—survival blankets—that are draped behind the paintings along two walls. In the gaudy glow of this backdrop the exposed brass in Thomas’ works shines boldly and the glazed layers across Chung’s canvases shimmer nicely. However this artifice of environment still cannot bring these two parallel lines into a satisfactory convergence.
Fu-On Chung’s work has deepened since his last showing at the Blue Oyster in 2014 as part of the group show Unpainted. He is continuing to build a strong personal vocabulary out of the language of abstract expressionism. The paintings, as noted, are mostly built layers of thin glazes with the image-outcome as an emergent property. His palette is appealingly both lurid and deep, with rich forms of glowing colour looming out of dark fields of gestured compositional strokes. Overall one can see the trajectory here of a somewhat confident young artist dedicated to pursuing the refinement of his already established working methodology. Chung’s conceptual concerns rest easily in the formal arrangements of his non-objective picture plane.
Also driven to create his own distinct voice while pushing a little further out at the edges of the established modalities of painting, Sam Thomas’ offerings to this show are an incongruous juxtaposition to Chung’s relatively traditional forays. Working on thin sheets of brass folded into the rectilinear shapes of stretched-yet-unframed canvases, the images operate on a couple of levels, generally with a field of paint or patina with linear drawn elements of the original brass showing through. Thomas appears to address and perhaps attempts to subvert the European narrative of art history in his sampling from Bruegel’s pastoral landscape Hunters in the Snow which provides the background for half of his pieces here.
Bruegel’s work, which may be of a personal fascination, feels shoe-horned into the show rather than proving a functional contextual key for this particular exhibition. The association between this background and the incised image of Giger’s Alien from the popular film franchise, for example, feels as arbitrary as it is oblique. There is a marked lack of sophistication in Thomas’ iteration of Hunters that works against any definitive statement being made by the wild crossover of images. He appears capable of such, and would be served well by a far greater attention placed on craft to lend his cultural broadsides some aesthetic tension. His remaining imagery, working without the context of Bruegel, is no less opaque.
There is a sense of what these two are reaching for in the conversation between practices, but their disparate threads of enquiry lead them to conclusions that are struggling for synthesis. According to the exhibition text, this project is addressing fantasy as its driving notion in much the same way their previous collaborative outing, Nets at GLOVEBOX in Auckland, ostensibly tackled the theoretical concerns of tennis. However their particular concerns and approach are left undefined, the theme an arbitrary buzzword more than a conceptual hook.
Chung and Thomas appear that they would like there to be some sort of engaged convergence between their practices, built upon and outlining their bond of friendship. This is a noble goal and a worthwhile experiment, but one that calls for a deeper interaction between the works than these relatively capricious juxtapositions can offer.
Brendan Jon Philip