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John Nixon’s Mini-Survey at Two Rooms

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John Nixon's EPW: Selected Paintings, as installed upstairs at Two Rooms. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon: Pair of Polychrome Painting Colour Group A, 2006; Block Painting Green and White Cross, 1993; Untitled (AUK), 2014. Photo: Sam Hartnett. John Nixon: Untitled, 2015; Black, Yellow, Orange, Red, Black, 2001; Silver Monochrome, 2003. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon's EPW: Selected Paintings, as installed upstairs at Two Rooms. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon: Pair of Polychrome Painting 5, 2009; Orange and White, 2002. Photo: Sam Hartnett. John Nixon: Untitled (AUK), 1998-2014; Orange, Black, Brown, Red, Pale Blue, 2001; Pair of Polychrome Painting Colour Group A, 2006. Photo: Sam Hartnett. John Nixon, Untitled (AUK), 1998 -2014, mixed materials on plywood, 320 x 320 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Pair of Poychrome Painting Colour Group A, 2006, enamel on MDF, 450 x 600 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Block Painting Green and White Cross, 1993, enamel on canvas board, 100 x 100 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Untitled (AUK), 2014, mixed materials on canvas, 700 x 600 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett. John Nixon, Silver Monochrome, 2014, enamel and glass on hessian, 300 x 230 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Orange and Dark Blue, 2002, enamel on MDF, 900 x 600 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Yellow and Black Cross, 1989, enamel on metal, 370 x 370 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Untitled, 2015, enamel and mixed materials on canvas, 470 x 350 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Pair of Polychrome Painting 5, 2009, enamel on MDF, 450 x 600 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Orange Test Painting, 1999, mixed materials on plywood, 320 x 320 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Untitled, 2009 -2014, enamel and MDF on MDF, 450 x 600 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Red, Blue, Orange, Yellow, Black, 2001, enamel on MDF, 900 x 600 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Untitled (AUK), 2004, mixed materials on canvas, 360 x 270 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett John Nixon, Untitled, 1998, acrylic on Masonite, 610 x 610 mm. Photo: Sam Hartnett

There is a lot of variation in painting type. The category (and time) shifts are refreshing, ranging from the later jewel-like explorations of saturated colour to the earlier recontextualised, art historical (Suprematist) appropriations. Some of the larger simpler works from around 2002, are too simple - and plain dull - by themselves, but in this compositional array, within a new context, they become dynamic elements that are crucial.

Auckland

 

John Nixon
EPW: Selected Paintings

 

14 August - 19 September 2015

It has been some time since Australian artist, John Nixon, last exhibited in Auckland, and although he has had solo and group shows at Sue Crockford (and a Ben Curnow-curated exhibition with Julian Dashper at Gus Fisher in 2004), he has never had the equivalent in this city of the spectacular EP & OW (Experimental Painting & Object Workshop) survey (curated by Allan Smith) that came to Wellington and Dunedin in 1997.

This current Two Rooms exhibition, a selection of eighteen different sized works (including two pairs of striped horizontal panels) made between 1989 and 2015, is - as always with Nixon - unapologetically ‘early modernist’ in ethos, and here, disarmingly intimate. The photographs on the right exaggerate the spatial depth, for being domestic in scale, the show makes clever use of the narrow upstairs space, its two long parallel walls and the dominant presence of many hot (advancing) oranges and reds. There is a vivid sense of the two sides of the room conversing, with different motifs, rhythms and formal properties selected from 26 years of work reflecting and ‘hailing’ each other, and your own bodily presence - within a sort of catwalk - being immersed in all this cross-connecting ‘chatter’. It’s physical, pulsing, and loud.

And very exciting. There is a lot of variation in painting type. The category (and time) shifts are refreshing, ranging from the later jewel-like explorations of saturated colour to the earlier recontextualised, art historical (Suprematist) appropriations. Some of the larger simpler works (using shapes that seem oddly to allude to Elsworth Kelly) from around 2002, are too simple - and plain dull - by themselves, but in this compositional array, within a new context, they become dynamic elements that are crucial.

Two works (Pair(s) of Polychrome Painting(s)) provide panels you compare - with pleasure - side by side, looking at the position of sequentially predetermined coloured stripes. In one, a vertical sequence is altered when some bands are flipped horizontally and stacked inverted; in the other, a telescopic sequence frames a squat vertically sequenced centre where mid-positioned colour stripes are reversed to become outer and peripheral.

Others use cut-out geometric shapes of thin MDF that have been painted (or left unpainted) and carefully glued onto glossy painted panels. Some more recent works take the interest in physical projection even further, so that clusters of diagonally aligned wooden strips cast shadows by extending over the edges of the backing block they are fixed to. In one, Nixon celebrates the labour of the making process by diagonally incorporating a blue carpenter’s pencil and a narrow orange saw blade into the work itself. In a third relief, he glues on a diagonal row of five multi-coloured beer and water bottle tops, a tip of the hat to Picasso, Braque, Gris - and of course Schwitters.

Another painting, a collage featuring lettering, includes part of the packaging of the paint application roller involved in its production. This is one of a couple of small square paintings that feature the sans serif block lettering of the EPW title itself, that consequently become functional, serving as an austere form of accentuating ‘poster’ for Nixon’s project.

There are also two monochromes that feature thick coarse hessian which has been coated in silver metallic paint, one with chunky coloured glass beads scattered across its surface. This would normally seem to be a comment on the decorative role of painting in architecture except that Nixon’s practice does not embrace irony or espouse self-critique. If a work is decorative it is because that attribute is regarded positively.

This is logical, for with Nixon’s paintings in general there is a strong sense of manual tactility, a knowing rhythm in the application of thin paint. The image is made embracing some looseness and ‘imperfection’ of edge - depending on whether the support be metal, MDF, wood, canvas or hessian. The works are never impeccable in their surface, or industrial looking, for Nixon’s visible labour is the point, its manuality underpinning a certain ethos that originally blossomed over a century ago, and which the artist obviously regards as of great relevance (certainly for him) today.

The upstairs gallery at Two Rooms has rarely looked as good as it does now with this show. It’s a special, very vibrant installation that’s exhilarating.

John Hurrell

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