Wednesday, March 16 2022 10 AM 
Saturday, June 25, 2022   3:00 PM

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Wallace Arts Trust Collection Gallery

Opening March 16 2022

Fumbles for Rhymes explores the use of humour by Aotearoa New Zealand artists - senior, mid-career and emergent. Presented through works from the Wallace Arts Trust Collection, this exhibition begins with several artists who established themselves in the 1980s and employed a number of humorous motifs. They received recognition partly due to elements of witticism in their work. Fumbles for Rhymes shows how contemporary artists have used humour repeatedly in their practice.

Featuring work from Laura Williams, Tawhai Rickard, Glen Hayward, Dick Frizzell and more.

Above Images:
”Paradise Mound”, Laura Williams, 2021
Image courtesy of Laree Payne Gallery
Photo credit to Mark Hamilton

detail “Haley’s Comet Over Taupiri Mountain”, 1986 Dick Frizzell  |  detail “Massed Choir”, 1996 Dick Frizzell

Of the senior artists presented here humour has been an identifiable trait pervasive in Dick Frizzell’s paintings for several decades. In many cases the joke Frizzell makes is articulated between the painted image and a title, with both read together for comedic effect. Halley’s Comet Over Taupiri Mountain (1986, Wallace Arts Trust Collection) gives us an example of this technique. The title of the painting is inscribed in large text at the centre of the image - referring to the famous returning comet last observed in 1986. Frizzell’s comet is a demi-god with wings, observed over the revered maunga of the Waikato. His figure and the background are crudely drawn in thick paint. It is a slapstick performance and, clearly, the pratfall mocks an expressionist mode of painting, which was predominant in the period Frizzell’s image was made.

“Captain Cook’s Time Machine” Tawhai Rickard, 2020

Artists may use humour as a means to disrupt our usual habits of perception, providing shocks through misapprehension or rejigging of signifying orders. Several contemporary artists in this exhibition provide a sense of whimsy to concerns usually held austere or as deeply serious matters. Often these are specific interests, pertinent and personally felt by the artist. They treat perspectives on issues of gender, or the history of Māori and Pakeha relations in Aotearoa, for example. Laura Williams often playfully posits the male gaze in her paintings, undercutting it or modulating it. She portrays men with a vulnerability, both looked upon and objectified, inverting the usual or received order of things. Tawhai Rickard (Ngāti Porou) creates models in wooden forms populating their surfaces with painted images and a proliferation of historical significations. These sculptures (including ships and clocks) reference our bi-cultural foundations with the use of satire, drawing on many historic, anthropologic and literary sources.

“Scream”, 2006 Glen Hayward                             “White Snake”, 2006 Glen Hayward

Other artists here return to the culture of art making in Aotearoa and art historical tropes found in the broad narrative of western art. Glen Hayward works within a trompe l’oeil tradition, playing tricks on the eye through his mastery of carving wood. His usual practice to render commonplace objects in intricately carved wood with these becoming indistinguishable from the ‘originals’, which are often manufactured or machined out of other materials or composites. Scream (2006, Wallace Arts Trust Collection) plays a couple of art historical jokes: looking like an ear it listens to a scream by taking on the recognisable contour of the famous screaming figure’s head from Munch, while also referencing Duchamp's Fountain sculpture – the archetypal modern art joke of the ready-made.   

Visual puns or pictorial humour may tend towards the twee or the commercial – are the jokes in these works successful? One way or another they invite a conversation with the set of cultural references also brought into view by the audience who carry them about, who may find them funny, or not. 


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