Reviews, News and Commentary

John Blackburn’s new paintings provide a personal diary of the plague year

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

John Blackburn, Horizon with Pink

Extended Stay, John Blackburn

Artis Gallery

Until February 18

John Blackburn ‘Extended Stay’ is a body of work that the British artist completed while confined to New Zealand last year because of the Covid 19 Pandemic, The artist who regularly comes to New Zealand to paint and exhibit spent three months, mainly in lockdown producing these works which reflect on his time in isolation.

From the exhibition title, “Extended Stay” and the titles of many of the works the exhibition can be seen as the artists  personal diary of the plague year. Several of the works have specific dates in their titles – “The Mount April 2020,  Level 1 @ 11.50pm, and June 16/17”. Some of the paintings have additional descriptions on the rear of the paintings  such as “Rotorua NZ & @ The Mount 4th  6: 20.  Covid Lockdown 4::3:2”: and “The Balcony Pacific Apt 508, The Mount. N.Z. Covid Level 1”.

Most of these works used the limited structures, shapes and colours of his recent paintings . This lexicon of forms: vessels, geometric shapes, abstract shapes-  are used to create a personal language which provides  sense of dialogue with links between the individual components of the paintings. His vessel shapes are like celestial pots of paint containing the colours of the environment  – the blues of sea and sky, the green and browns of the land, an array of pointillist dots hinting at energy.  Or it could be as though he has extracted the colours from environment and condensed them down.

There is a delicacy and simplicity to the work, obvious in his attempts to refine his experience of the world into its essential components.

The works have an emphasis on structures colours and textures with observation on places and times. The forms and colours allude to the landscapes, the changing patterns of sky and water while the blocks of abstract colour represent various atmospheric conditions   red and yellow suns, the blinding white of summer and the blacks of storm clouds.

So  in  “Horizon with Pink” ($4750) we see a curved line of The Mount, tinged with a pink of sunset along with a vessel of blue and block of intense whit as e. The simple “A Bright Day” ($3500)  consist of  red and yellow circles (Sun and Moon) above a curved hill shape. Other works are almost mundane with “Key Card” ($3650) dominated by the yellow shape of a room key card.

Some works appear to be experiments in colour notations, looking like representation of cellular forms as in “Ovoid Forms (Remembering Roy Parker) No 3” ($4000).

The works bring together the  spontaneity of oriental abstract calligraphy, the keen observation of John Constable’s cloud studies and the drama of gestural and geometric abstraction. The paintings seem to be bringing  order to the chaos and the disorder  of the visible world.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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