Isobel Thom's works are at their most affecting in the type of bungalow or villa you might find just down the road.

Hamish Coney looks at the work of five artists that could capture your eye this year

Dan Arps: Dr Dan Arps’ recent exhibition at Michael Lett entitled Plastic Mouthfeel II was a tour-de-force of the artist’s gallows humour. The 2010 Walters Prize winner’s critique of our post-capitalist, post-history, post-truth zeitgeist manages to be concurrently dystopian and yet leavened with full-cream optimism. To the uninitiated, Arps’ installations – which take in everything from found objects to sonic visual puns replete with seedy pop culture references – can appear to be bafflingly perverse postings from the bad art blogosphere. But there is method to his madness. His best work has the kind of punky AK79 spirit – of the ‘I hate the Spelling Mistakes’ vintage – that today feels urgent, necessary and cathartic.

It’s not meant to be pretty or a contender for the charm school strain of art that is doing the rounds on a global level du jour. For those who regard aesthetic beauty as basecamp for their art, Arps arrangements are a hard sell. But this is an artist on the frontline. His is a compelling contemporary visual poetry of both the ‘what the hell’ and WTF variety. A recent article by Arps was headlined, Towards a Positive Cynicism – and if that sounds like something you might need to keep you fighting fit, or sane, for the culture wars in the coming year then I recommend a bracing dose in 2017.

There is method to Dan Arps’ madness that today feels urgent, necessary and cathartic.

Gallery representation: Dan Arps is represented by Michael Lett, Auckland and Robert Heald Gallery, Wellington

Jeena Shin’s work is at once simple and complex.

Jeena Shin: Chances are if you have been out and about in Auckland at, say, Peach Pitt on K’Road or the Herald Theatre you will already be familiar with Shin’s beguiling Motus wall paintings: fluttering, triangulated shards that dance across large scale interiors. 

Like many abstract artists, Shin’s practice involves a limited range of forms or signature motifs in endless combinations. Stephen Bambury’s Ladders, Allen Maddox’s endless X and Judy Millar’s swirls are examples that come to mind in the New Zealand context. Go back in time a bit and you’ll run into Josef Albers’ squares. Shin’s approach is to let triangles in all their tumbling variety connect, spin, overlap and in some cases run wild or in others scatter as if repelled in a magnetic dance.

The beauty of her work is in its simultaneous simplicity and complexity – its challenge is to feel movement within the confines of the static image. In her hands this contradiction becomes a narrative of movement. Individual works have either a crystalline stillness or the frozen frenzy of a million beating wings. The elasticity of her chosen form gives her work a virile, life-affirming quality. A wander around her most recent exhibition at Two Rooms was an object lesson in the positive energy that flows directly from a Jeena Shin canvas into that part of the cerebral cortex labelled ‘wellbeing’.

Jake Walker: In recent years the ‘leaking’ of interdisciplinary practices such as dance, music and architecture into the art we see in our dealer galleries has gathered pace. Not so long ago these elements tended to be the province of cutting edge public gallery exhibitions where artists were freed from the constraints of the domestic or the art commodity, such as a painting or photograph that you or I could ‘hang’ or place in our own home. In a New Zealand context the godfather figure to this strain of contemporary art that was informed by, or engaged with, broader conceptual inputs was the late Julian Dashper, who artfully combined abstraction with drumkits.Gallery representation: Jeena Shin is represented by Two Rooms, Auckland

Jake Walker refers to his work as ‘folk modernism’. His amalgam of painting, ceramics and architectural references will be instantly recognisable to any student of New Zealand urban environment. Ian Athfield’s Khandallah house serves as a theoretical Michelin Guide for Walker’s lo-fi enquires into form and image making that inhabits the space between the second and third dimensions. Walker’s recent exhibition at Hamish McKay Gallery in Wellington entitled The Suggested Things revealed the artist entering a new lyrical phase, within which the tension between the ‘folky’ and the ‘modern’ bits is both playful and profound.

Gallery representation: Jake Walker is represented by Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Gallery 9, Sydney

Isobel Thom: Oturehua to Onehunga was the intriguing title of Isobel Thom’s 2016 exhibition at Hamish McKay Gallery in Wellington. What’s in a name? you might say. In this case Thom’s choice was both a simple homage to the two locations in which she prepared works for the exhibition and a pointed nod to the artist’s innate understanding of the New Zealand vernacular that inform her arresting ceramic sculptures. Pottery, to use the old fashioned nomenclature, has been one of the key ‘new’ media of the digital era. Clay stands as a counter-intuitive metaphor for authenticity and the primary role of the maker in the 21st century when many artists eschew getting anywhere near the production process of their work. Thom’s subtle readings of modernist ceramics and sculpture have their roots in Bauhaus democratisation of the arts as well as the intersection of minimalism and, would you believe, Japanese tea ceremonies.

Within this ambitious programme of synthesis she shares kinship with key 20th century figures such as Carlo Scarpa, Agnes Martin and Hans Coper and even, a little closer to home, Theo Schoon and Gordon Walters. But Thom’s teapots, cups and saucers are forms which in their very quotidian nature locate themselves in the poetry of the everyday. So whilst you will find her works within many public galleries they are at their most affecting in the type of bungalow or villa you might find just down the road, in Onehunga for example.

Gallery representation: Isobel Thom is represented by Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington

Zac Langdon-Pole: Since graduating from Elam in 2010 Berlin based Langdon-Pole has become a classic exemplar of the current generation of New Zealand artists operating in an international context. For the last two years he has studied and graduated from the Städelschule, Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Frankfurt am Main. In 2016 he was awarded the Charlotte Prinz Stipendium in Darmstadt, Germany. He has also exhibited in Singapore, Canada and Christchurch.

His most recent exhibition at Michael Lett in Auckland Oratory Index in late 2016 was a model of the brevity and elegance of the artist’s developing formal language. The most striking parts consisted of chromed casts of the palates of his models, or, if you like ‘solid air’. These hanging palates posit as inverse medical 3Ds of that part of the human body we never see, that place where breath, taste… our very internality, if such a word exists, is born into the wider environment. These Lacunae Mouths as he calls them capture the sweetspot where intent and actuality intersect, meaning is formed and abstract sound is wrangled into language.

Langdon Pole’s positioning of these works in the realm of the senses reveals a deep thinking artist with an intuitive grasp of the drama of the unseen moment. For this observer, each iteration of Langdon Pole’s growing oeuvre displays a deepening ability to connect with the human condition in ways that feel apt, grounded and something in the way of a revelation.

Gallery representation: Zac Langdon-Pole is represented by Michael Lett, Auckland

Hamish Coney is the founding Managing Director of Auckland based fine art auction house ART+OBJECT. He is also the publisher and editor of Content magazine. He has written articles on art and architecture for Urbis, Idealog, Architecture New Zealand and Art News New Zealand. In 2009 he was the Qantas Media Awards-winning arts columnist of the year.

*This story first appeared on Summer Newsroom

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