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Groove Is In The Art

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Ben Buchanan's Forever at The Dowse. Photo by Mark Tantrum. Ben Buchanan's Forever at The Dowse. Photo by Mark Tantrum. Ben Buchanan's Forever at The Dowse. Photo by Mark Tantrum. Ben Buchanan's Forever at The Dowse. Photo by John Lake. Ben Buchanan's Forever at The Dowse. Photo by John Lake. Ben Buchanan's Forever at The Dowse. Photo by John Lake.

I notice when McCahon made Victory Over Death 2 he didn't make it on a piece of A4 and for good reason. This work at Solo is Buchanan's big ‘I Am' statement. It's a synthesis of the techniques he's developed over the past decade of his practice.

Lower Hutt


Ben Buchanan
(Part of Solo)


12 May - 19 August 2012

Solo at the Dowse presents four exhibitions by Wellington based artists, Cat Auburn, Ben Buchanan, Matt Hunt and Ann Shelton. Each artist holds their own, but it is Buchanan who dominates Solo with a wall installation entitled simply: Forever. Pink against orange, red against black, a stripe, a zigzag, a diamond star halo. At the Dowse Buchanan’s installation wraps around walls, and flexes its shiny vinyl scales like muscles.

Forever is de-groovy, it is a delight. It’s the kind of artwork that reminds me of pop music, not just because it drenches our senses with such high wattage colors (the strobe, the rave, the stippled blades of light), but because it’s a work so totally present in the moment and of the moment. When Solo closes in August, the vinyl will be stripped from the walls and Forever will finally be over.

Buchanan has been working with sign writing vinyl since 1998 and his command of this medium shows. He has constructed the installation freehand, not working from a sketch, armed just with a scalpel and a ruler. From a distance the wall work appears perfect, its edges crisp, up close and personal the surface is woven with rough edges, the human hand of the artist revealed. Forever is an installation that knocks the audience over with its scale and ambition, its patience and precision.

The artist takes for granted Cubism’s smashed picture plane. On the left hand wall Buchanan scatters colored pixels of vinyl like hundreds and thousands; in the right hand corner of the gallery he splinters vinyl across the floor. At the centre of the installation a black diamond stares the audience down like a pupil. A Mandela. A black hole sun. This installation sucks you into its core.

On the gallery website the press release refers to Buchanan’s vinyl works as paintings. Fair enough. I read them this way too; I’m especially reminded of the Abstract Expressionists - the giants of art history - like Pollock. Maybe my judgment is way off, but Forever strikes me as sharing the same kind of balls and bravado. This is a heavy weight work. Big isn’t always better, but in the case of Forever, I think it is. Yes, it is about color, yes it is about pattern. Yes, it is a big hunk of spunk.

Buchanan isn’t into narrative and Forever is not a title trying to outfox you with its academic references and highbrow allusions. You don’t even need an entry point into this work - it simply is. If you do down to the Dowse today, you’ll see it whether you want to or not. Its rays of light creep round corners. As a work it is hot rather than cold. Of course Forever may simply not be to your taste. It doesn’t matter. I love to see an artist ‘bring it’ and go gaga on a show. I love that feeling that they have brought everything they can to bear on the work, all their talents, skills and judgment.

I notice when McCahon made Victory Over Death 2 he didn’t make it on a piece of A4 and for good reason. This work at Solo is Buchanan’s big ‘I Am’ statement. It’s a synthesis of the techniques he’s developed over the past decade of his practice.

What else can I say about Forever? Is it really interesting to contextualize this work within the realm of geometric abstraction? Am I even the person to be able to do it? Do we need to join the dots from Malevich and Mondrian through to Gordon Walters and more recently the glittertastic work of Rueben Patterson? Buchanan has Maori blood and there’s another reading in here, that would pull out the iconography in taniko designs and make comparisons to the history of Maori weaving, but I don’t feel qualified to do it justice.

At the opening my friend also made reference to Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings and others have pointed out the vaginal connotations of Buchanan’s large black triangle, surrounded by bright red lipsticky vinyl. Personally I couldn’t care less if artists still want to make work about vaginas. I’m not so sure that’s what’s happening here however.

I do get a strong sense of the desert, its heat, its sunstroke, its melting lines of horizon, both from Forever and also from Sleeping, Buchanan’s 2009 installation at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. But I am a stickler for the obvious. The Wiki definition of geometric abstraction points out that it predates modernism, citing examples like the mosaics of Turkey. The first wall-works I saw by Buchanan at Hamish McKay Gallery reminded me of lavish Persian carpets.

Yet, I’m certain that even if I hadn’t met Buchanan I’d look at Forever and know it was made by a Gen Xer, like me. From the stippled ray of light crossing the disco floor, to the pulsing click of a digital clock changing its time, there’s something decidedly now about Forever. I can sense the ecstasy of the dance generation perspiring behind this installation. We’re a generation that is no longer young. Like Buchanan’s work we’ve now matured. None of us will last forever.

Megan Dunn




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