Pete Wheeler is back. Five years ago he left Christchurch after completing an MFA at Ilam, to live and work full-time as a painter in Berlin. Busy as Hell
is his first show in New Zealand since, and as the moniker suggests, Wheeler has been exactly that.
Quite naturally, Wheeler's work has evolved in the time away. He departed New Zealand as an oil painter of boyish subjects, often larger than life and generous of brushstroke (see All Bets Are Off
). In these paintings there is now a much broader range of materiality, and a richness, a variety of surface greater than Wheeler has achieved before. Pigment is mixed into moulding wax, layered over photographic emulsion, gilded and then eaten into by chlorides, sometimes all in the one work!
In Gets you right down to your soul
, a harlequin-like figure stands in a dark ground. His dry-brushed features and colourful clothing are light touches alongside areas of raw linen. The background by contrast is a marvellously layered dark violet expanse wrought in wax, and then scratched and abraided with white. This is a worked surface full of history. Figure and ground merge easily through whites and reds around the winged hat and head. It is a very handsome painting, soft and bruisingly assertive at the same time.
All Things Beautiful
is also a tour de force. White pigment and wax delicately describe the head, arms and curiously elongated feet of a prone figure. A death-like aura hovers just above the figure. Then our eye is taken diagonally out into the scumbled darkness by flecks of pigment, yellow and orange brushed into the painting’s black waxen skin.
There is also no avoiding the raw and assertive orange in Unadorned Clay Pots of Ordinary Lives
. It pushes in from the right, a solid match for the gold that is otherwise around the head. The head however, is almost drained of definition, its features channelled into rivers of blue chloride that flow down the shoulders out to the bottom of the painting. Visually, the effect is almost byzantine in intensity. Psychologically, the feeling is both eerie and powerful.
Fresh from a show in Cologne, it is wonderful to have Pete Wheeler back. And his next gig in New Zealand is already in the diary: a major show at Pah Homestead – James Wallace’s Gallery in Onehunga, Auckland – that opens early December this year.
Press release courtesy Jonathan Smart Gallery.