New Folk: Painters from Anna Bibby Gallery

Des Helmore / Gavin Hurley / Martin Poppelwell / Sam Mitchell

  • 10 Jun - 3 Jul, 2010

The 'New Folk' exhibition at RAMP aims to acknowledge the role of commercial art dealers in the promotion of New Zealand art. In this case, Anna Bibby. The artists are Gavin Hurley, Sam Mitchell, Des Helmore and Martin Poppelwell. They have been clustered under the title "New Folk", suggesting that all artists reference something about a New Zealand folk art vernacular.

This is an exhibition that provides a unique snapshot of contemporary New Zealand figurative painting, and one that gives credit to Anna Bibby - one of this country's best and most consistent dealers of contemporary art.

Exhibition Text:

New Folk

Contemporary painting from Anna Bibbly Gallery

By: Stuart Shepard

Anna Bibbly is one of the established art dealers in Auckland. Anna grew up in Wellington, studied fine art, worked at the Govett Brewster Gallery in Mew Plymouth as curator. She moved to Auckland and worked as director the Claybook Gallery. In the 1990's she started her own Gallery across from Auckland City Gallery in Kitchener St.

As much as Anna has a Painter's sensitivity to the work she represents, she has insiders knowledge of her audience - New Zealand collectors, Aucklanders, Wellingtonians. Knowing both the audience and the artwork must be essential for any successful gallery in New Zealand where the market place is so small compared to the scale of the art scene off shore. Anna and the gallery have familial relationship with the artists and the exhibition openings have the atmosphere of a family celebration. 

The artists selected for this collection were chosen for a particular common thread -their connection with some kind of retro style or genre from the past and the evolution of a personal manner in response to that genre. The initial title for this collection was "neo-folk". It was intended to refer to the folk art or populist styles of the past being reinvented, revisited ..views anew..neo..I decided to use the term New instead of neo in case the term neo be interpreted a superficial version of something previously established. So to be clear, the work on show here references the past but it it new, and these artists have all arrived at their own particular and resolved visual languages which continue to evolve.    

Gavin Hurley mines a personal history and a New Zealand history through the lens of funky Victorian paper cut-outs and beautifully crafted paintings that reference flat 60s pop and the post cubist manner of Frenchman Ferdinand Leger. Gavin's work seems fond of something about the stiff formal official portraiture of the turn of the century.  A time of pomp and ceremony and the "putting-on of faces". A social /national manner that we in our post-modern times are still unable to shake. 

Meanwhile Sam Michell mine a territory socially located downtown. Outside Gavin's well tended parlors, down on the seedy wharves where the sailors hang-out, and down by the tattoo parlours, where painted ladies linger. These places reveal an unbuttoned exotic world where base urges are indulged and enjoyed. her repertoire of motifs runs from pop music to religion and voodoo, but throughout all these images her antennae for exotic and other worldly are finely tuned. Technically Sam has found materials that suit her neighborhood - ink drawings on the used covers of novels, paint on the outside of perspex .. a technique sometimes found in prison art, (and toilet walls?)

Des Helmore ... makes work that applies a hard-edged version of the 1950s American painter Milton Avery, where details of a scene are removed, edited, and eccentric areas of flat colour are carefully modulated and composed. Scenes are familiar, and forgettable. Non - tourist scenes are made beautifully harmonious. The fine tuning of these compositions and the fine crafting of these surfaces make these no-where scenes resonate like icons. In some works the geometry of a scene comes close to a kind of pop 1980s Memphis design. The inclusion of signage in some scenes, and the outlines around shapes of colour move Des' paintings into the realm of a restrained comic. To include this work under the umbrella of new folk is a stretch, and his work might be misplaced here, but it fits very well as an example of painting that manages to breeze between an international sophistication and local knowledge. 

Martin Poppelwell is a sophisticated tramp.. a hillbilly in Calvin Klein jeans. The painting included here comes from the kind of hand made on the road side signage found around the orchards of the Hawkes Bay where Martin lives. But the content is way more knowing..the produce on sale includes elliptical psychological messages and disturbing social commentary. (Sometimes is not quite right down on this farm). The squares constitute a patchwork modernist grid. McCahon was fond of such signage and the game of finding modernist/spiritual truths in the everyday. Poppelwell is a ceramicist as well as a painter, and the cast of cast figures included here tap kiwiana kitsch and by being rendered in the neutral white the become a modernist family group.. an arty junk store collection? a mass-produced and anonymous rendition of national iconography? a bunch of collective memory? now served up, unglazed, in a Ponsonby boutique window display. Poppelwell's work weaves a path between high and low culture, but what over-rides is all is a signature sensitivity to materials and an elegance of design.