Hata, the stag waits. Phar Lap waits. But for what and whom do they (and their retinues) await? T’is an elusive narrative populated by a rich cast of characters. Heaphy’s visual lexicon covers the past and present. It references colonial and post-colonial Maori and Pakeha, and increasingly Asia. Everything from his favoured card symbols and imagery from the prophets Te Kooti, Rua Kenana and Ratana, to the myriad birds and plants of Aotearoa, and the tools of everyday, such as hats, pipes, walking sticks, crutches and flags. Animal, vegetable or mineral – it might be present – for this is the floating world, a site full of suggestion and a cornucopia wonderfully imagined.
The Floating World also described the realm of the Japanese geisha. Installed low in the back gallery, a geiko (or geisha from Kyoto) is flanked by small canvases composed around the notion of a koma, a Japanese tearoom four-and-a-half tatami mats in size. Geiko Chashitsu is a set of paintings best seen from or seated on the floor.The title work of the show is bigger. At two metres square it sounds no giant, but it is a painting full of the joy of Heaphy’s expanding visual vocabulary, a work I’m sure within which he left part of his DNA just to get it completed here in time. It is significant and majestic. Mandala-like, it has at its centre the bold red circle of the Japanese flag. From this heart, heads and birds (whio and kotuku) take our eye to a ring of black, prancing, bushy tailed horses. Generous white (negative) space around these lends the painting wonderful bounce – a visual syncopation full of rhythm and movement. Gray profiles of Maori heads in discs almost ceramic blue, lead to four comparatively large rondels of gold, each featuring a gnarly plum tree in blossom. Never seen the like of this before in a Heaphy. These Asian medallions are flanked by black profiles of a female head, with a male profile inset in gold and top hat. The dance of form and pattern is generous and almost overwhelming in its suggestion and pollination of cultures across time. Yet there is calm, mysterious stillness, and a beautiful dignity – all befitting the geisha incarnate, the inhabitants of 'the floating world'.
Press release courtesy Jonathan Smart Gallery.