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JH

Basher’s Witty Floral Arrangements

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Martin Basher, Birds of Paradise, installation view, Starkwhite, April 2021. Photo: Sam Hartnett. Martin Basher, Birds of Paradise, installation view, Starkwhite, April 2021. Photo: Sam Hartnett. Martin Basher, Birds of Paradise, installation view, Starkwhite, April 2021. Photo: Sam Hartnett. Martin Basher, Birds of Paradise, installation view, Starkwhite, April 2021. Photo: Sam Hartnett. Martin Basher, Birds of Paradise, installation view, Starkwhite, April 2021. Photo: Sam Hartnett. Martin Basher, Birds of Paradise, installation view, Starkwhite, April 2021. Photo: Sam Hartnett.

These décor-conscious, graphic new paintings have zing and a real richness of content. The layering of past references is intriguing, for spatially there's a hint that the flower paintings are in the passenger lounge of the Titanic, and that the vertical bar abstractions are lining the windows of a prison from which there is no escape.

Auckland

 

Martin Basher
Birds of Paradise


13 April - 14 May 2021

This new Basher show—with its collection of elegant ‘still lifes’ and ‘abstractions’—is a clever synthesis of earlier allusions, melding the conceptual underpinnings (critique of neoliberalism and hedonistic consumerism) of different painting and installation projects.

In these Ikebana-style flower arrangement compositions, amongst the linear-stalked and spiky-leaved (Orientalist?) bamboo stalks, we see birds of paradise—strelitzia reginae, also known as crane flowers—globular glass vases, bubbles, floating balloons and hovering discs of tropical tourist-hungry beaches. In some there is a hint that the very room in which the flowers are placed is slowly filling up with water.

Whereas the vertically striped ‘op’ paintings on the walls between them are preoccupied with bursting or seeping light as a possible symbol for the uncontrollable and pervasive power of capitalism (amidst the shimmering rays, the contrasting popular-but modulated—dark colours are carefully chosen), these polemical yet calculatedly seductive nature morte images (positioned against flat white backdrops as declared and rendered art) flirt with the power of vanity, beguiling desire, and incessant craving for art ownership.

Sufficiently abstracted to be highly ambiguous they can also be large cocktail glasses with swizzle sticks, or bird-feeders in an aviary. With these stylish critiques of late capitalism, I normally prefer Basher‘s display-based installations and sculptures to his paintings: his bachelor playboy satire is more overt; his intentions more assertive and less slippery. There is less sense of wanting the cake and eating it.

However these new décor-conscious, graphic paintings have zing and a real richness of content. The layering of past references is intriguing, for spatially there’s a hint that the flower paintings are in the passenger lounge of the Titanic, and that the vertical bar abstractions are lining the windows of a prison from which there is no escape. With one of the latter there is even the suggestion of a gigantic conflagration outside, a global catastrophe.

Unlike traditional Dutch vanitas still lifes, Basher‘s snappy and pristine botanical paintings—whilst rich in polemic—don’t focus only on the temporal life of the indulgent individual but also on the planet and a range of escalating economic inequalities for its inhabitants. With their crisp shapes surrounded by bright light the works are very different from the works of other contemporary still life painters like Jude Rae, who anchor industrial forms on solid bases, where spatial embedding within the room’s aether is the key.

These images of bubbles floating precariously amongst clusters of razor-sharp slivers are the best paintings Basher has made for many years. They’re really fascinating for both mind and body, if you want to separate the two. A pleasant surprise.

John Hurrell

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