Shane Cot­ton
Oblique Nar­ra­tives

20th February – 4th April 2015
Anna Schwartz Gallery Carriageworks

In Oblique Nar­ra­tives, Shane Cot­ton presents works on can­vas and paper, and mur­al-scale works paint­ed direct­ly onto the sur­face of the gallery walls. Track­ing through sev­er­al strands of new paint­ing are known and unknown fig­ures: cer­tain motifs that are famil­iar from Cotton’s oeu­vre, along­side images, colours and ges­tures that are new­ly intro­duced. It is a mark of Cotton’s project as an artist that the visu­al lan­guage of his works con­stant­ly expands in unex­pect­ed ways at the same time that pre­vi­ous devel­op­ments are re ned and become touch­stones. Mean­ing is con­stant­ly sought anew from the
same images, through a process of look­ing and read­ing again from dif­fer­ent angles; while new images con­tribute points from which to re-read both exist­ing and imag­ined worlds. His process upholds the same out­ward push, and the same inward reflec­tion, as do the very works themselves.

Encoun­ter­ing Cotton’s paint­ings, con­trast is often a pri­ma­ry mode of read­ing. There often appears
a prob­lem of dis­parate spaces, of wil­ful­ly mis­matched forms of paint­ing, of bold words and elu­sive mean­ing. In Oblique Nar­ra­tives espe­cial­ly, the com­mon­place and the spe­cial, spir­i­tu­al or sacred share a non-hier­ar­chi­cal plane. Sil­hou­ettes of lemon trees, those ubiq­ui­tous mark­ers of home and domes­tic­i­ty, occu­py the same space as mokomokai, pre­served tat­tooed Maori heads. In the dim space of the pic­ture plane, the plants’ pres­ence speaks of reg­u­lar care, a gen­tle and com­mon but required prac­tice to enable growth. The mokomokai, how­ev­er, are per­haps more sta­t­ic objects whose change is now lim­it­ed to the pos­si­ble change in their ongo­ing prove­nance. Such con­trasts are deployed that they might pro­duce fresh con­nec­tions: oblique nar­ra­tives, rather than the nar­ra­tives that are known or expect­ed to emerge from such sym­bols. The sto­ry that emerges from the con­trast may be frac­tured, per­haps present­ly inco­her­ent – though Cotton’s pic­to­r­i­al res­o­lu­tion of such inco­her­ence is pur­pose­ful and bal­anced – leav­ing open a path forward.

But Cotton’s inter­est in the mokomokai is not lim­it­ed to the con­tentious nature of their exis­tence out­side Aotearoa New Zealand, as objects trad­ed by nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Euro­peans. Indeed, Cot­ton makes no moral judge­ment of the predica­ment of the toan­ga when he paints them. In Cotton’s oeu­vre, the heads are not sim­ply images of those very real objects; rather they have become images about the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of that sto­ry, and fur­ther, a fig­ure iso­lat­ed with­in Cotton’s own prac­tice, to work with and from. Work­ing again and again with this motif allows the artist to let the mokomokai give over a new sto­ry, writ­ten in the paint. In this sense, they are more akin to the domes­tic plants that appear in the same body of work, requir­ing a cer­tain atten­tion to devel­op at their own pace.

The incur­sion of at rec­tan­gu­lar forms into the deeply pic­toral sky-scapes of these works does not stop rev­er­en­tial­ly around the mokomokai. In fact each of the heads’ eyes are obscured by blocks of sol­id form. But this blind­ed­ness is not an act of vio­lence or cen­sor­ship, rather a kind of free­dom: sight­less, one is bet­ter able to think, to imag­ine with­out the crutch and dis­trac­tion of the vis­i­ble world. The blank abstract space that inter­sects with the face sug­gests an aper­ture from the mind into pure possibility. 

Images

Shane Cot­ton

Oblique Nar­ra­tives, 2015
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks

Shane Cot­ton

Oblique Nar­ra­tives, 2015
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks

Shane Cot­ton

Oblique Nar­ra­tives, 2015
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks

Shane Cot­ton

Oblique Nar­ra­tives, 2015
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks

Shane Cot­ton

Oblique Nar­ra­tives, 2015
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks