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b. 1974, New Zealand

Wayne Youle Biography

Wayne Youle is a Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whakaeke, and Ngāti Pākehā artist who lives in Amberley, Aotearoa New Zealand. Known for utilising a wide range of media in mostly sculpture and painting—often brightly coloured formats with flat unmodulated hues and shapes with precise edges—he is also conspicuous for his furtive humour and highly nuanced irony.

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Youle is a keen observer of the shifting perimeters of Māori and Pākehā culture—being familiar with both traditions, but more likely to be examining the latter's perception of the former—as well as a commentator on the vagaries of human behaviour.

Practice

Youle's studying at Wellington Polytechnic School of Design in the late nineties, where he specialised in typography, created an enthusiasm for silhouetted shapes, the impact of grouping, and contextualising narrative. This later enabled him to provocatively play with historically or spiritually loaded symbols like hei tiki, koru, moko, and skulls, turning them into a consumable, but at times enigmatic, Aotearoa-specific pop art.

A love of language, energetic punning, and unravelling the tics of idiomatic speech seem to be Youle's most obvious characteristic, even though text itself is not a salient part of his imagery. His works are more like a type of spread-out decompressed rebus that draws on many interests that include referencing other artists and various cultural mores.

Wayne Youle Artworks

Four projects reveal some typical complexities of his thinking. Often Liked, Occasionally Beaten (2003) is a series of fruit-coloured hei tiki resin lollipops on sticks that ridicules tourism's commodification of Māori culture, while also deliberately mocking the sacred by making an ancestral image an object of oral consumption. In his hands, a serious critique is mixed with a sacrilegious smirk.

12 Shades of Bullshit (2004) presents 12 silhouetted profiles of Māori heads as originally drawn by European artists, but in assorted tones of brown and presented cut out on thin aluminium. Here he ponders the difficulty of ascertaining the essential visual qualities of 'Māoriness'.

In One Step Forward, One Step Back, his solo exhibition at Wellington's {Suite} Gallery in 2011, Youle explored the effects of European introduction of technology to Maori. The works featured in the exhibition were the results of his Rita Angus Artist Residency, which he had received in the previously year from the Wellington Institute of Technology's School of Creative Technologies.

The 'Strangely Familiar' portraits that he exhibited in the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in 2017 are of New Zealand cultural heroes (legendary painters, sculptors, writers, musicians, and filmmakers) rendered in flat pastel or garish colours. They had almond eyes and pursed lips so that they took on a clownish mien that critiqued the frivolous status that the arts have in many communities in New Zealand Aotearoa. Ostensibly chirpy and celebratory, they also had a rueful undercurrent.

Also gathering significant attention was the huge temporary mural he created for Christchurch's suburb of Sydenham, I seem to have temporarily misplaced my sense of humour (2011–2015). A tribute to the many tradespeople he used to work with in the area, artisans whose premises were destroyed in the earthquake, it represented an old-timey shadow board (with 95 'tool' silhouettes on a massive pegboard) in a workshop, a mourning for lost equipment that was irreplaceable. Included in this apparent 'tip of the hat' to Kara Walker were the quaint black forms of an angular house, rocking horse, dog, a peering bystander, security camera, seesaw, and toilet.

In 2021, exhibiting with {Suite} at Spring1883, Youle presented 'NFT' series, a body of works consisting of sculptures and text-based acrylic pieces inspired by the Australian gang-leader-turned-folk-hero Ned Kelly. Youle's works make references to Kelly through an abstraction of his iconic blocky helmet, which appears as a bronze sculpture mounted on a mahogany base in NFX XIV (head) (2020).

Exhibitions

Youle has had many solo shows in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. These include Elevation, Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, Auckland (2020); 40 Days and 40 Nights, Michael Reid, Berlin (2019); The Hoe and The Hōiho, Pātaka Art + Museum, Porirua (2017); Look mum no hands, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Christchurch (2017); Fingers Crossed, Deane and Hirschfeld Galleries, City Gallery Wellington (2013); 9:54 | 3:49 Sydney Contemporary, Carriageworks, Sydney (2015); One Step Forward, One Step Back, {Suite}, Wellington (2011); Wayne Youle: 10 Down – A Survey Exhibition, Pātaka Art + Museum, Porirua (2009); and A Darker Kind of Light Heartedness, {Suite}, Wellington (2009).

Significant group shows include If you were to live here... 5th Auckland Triennial (2013); and Plastic Maori, The Dowse, Lower Hutt (2009).

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021

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