Friday 29 August 2008


I began following Shane Cotton's work closely in 2003.* Over the past five years, as I've seen his work in dealer and public gallery shows, one of the things that really interests me about the development of his work is that it makes more sense to me in retrospect.

For example, the move from the big black paintings made around 2000 - especially He Pukapuka Tuatahi, one of my all time top 10 favourite paintings - to works like Shooter and Silvereye (2002) confused me. There was something unanchored about the imagery, a sense that it didn't all sit together right.

But then in 2003 came the huge diptychs shown in the City Gallery survey show, and everything fell together - the vast black spaces, the flaming airbrushed white light, the floating forms.

Likewise, I was thrown off a bit by the 2004 show at Hamish McKay's, the black white and blue paintings that depicted ancient British monuments.

But then the next body of work came online - such as those shown in 'Four Times Painting' at the Adam - and again, things snapped into place for me. Paintings like Red shift had the same effect on me as He Pukapuka Tuatahi - the seductive depth, the sexy surface, and sense that the artist is sharing something meaningful with you, that if you just look long enough you'll understand the mystery.

Last weekend I ambled along to see Cotton's latest show at Hamish McKay. That's what got me thinking about how I understand and follow the shifts in Cotton's works. There's something interesting going on here. Forgive me - I try to avoid sounding art-wanky as much as possible - but there's a change happening between figure and ground, in how Cotton places elements in the painted space, and how they relate to each other, and this all emphasises that what you're looking at is a painting. And all this stops you from saying, oh look, more birds, and hey, that's a stag, only not, and makes you think these are paintings and I haven't spent enough time thinking about Cotton as a painter cos we've all spent some much time talking about what the symbols mean and we've forgotten to think about the fact the he's a painter and ask what does that mean?

At the moment, the paintings don't feel to me that they've completely gelled. But that makes me excited, because I know that what comes next is likely to be amazing, and I'll look back and say oh, so that's what was coming.

*I know, I know, I was late on the scene

Shane Cotton works, from top

Shooter and silvereye, 2002, oil on canvas. From the Art+Object website
Broken water, 2003, acrylic on two panels. From the Kaliman Gallery website
Black rocks, 2004, acrylic on canvas. From the Hamish McKay website
Red shift, 2007, acrylic on canvas. From the Kaliman Gallery website
Veil, 2008, acrylic on canvas. From the Hamish McKay website

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