Art, Northern Advocate Column

Art, it’s a tough gig

img_12855 March 2016

Art is an opinionated business. If you’re an artist it’s advisable to develop a thick skin. Sometimes difficult for sensitive souls, which artists usually are. I’ll always remember a conversation at a gallery opening in Auckland with a young art critic who politely told me my work was shit (in art speak, but that was the gist of it). Can you do that to someone’s face I was thinking? Is this what it’s like in the big city art scene? It was hard to continue with any chit-chat after that and he wandered off to talk to someone else. I staggered towards the table with the free wine. 

After a less than appreciative comment about my work in a long gone arts publication read by hardly anyone — or only the people that mattered, depending on how you look at it — I took to my bed and imagined my revenge on the insensitive and obviously braindead reviewer. 

And so here I am considering what to say about an art exhibition by two local artists at the Whangarei Art Museum, Dave Beazley and Murray Gibbs. Should I try to explain the work? What tone shall I use? If I write something negative will I get a rude email or be ignored at a gallery opening?

Actually, what I most want to say is simply how great it was to step into the museum and see a body of work by artists who are “local and alive”. Under new director Ruth Green-Cole and a team of other female staff the museum looks like taking a new direction, one that I’m sure Whangarei artists and many arts supporters will be welcoming. 

As for the work of Beazley and Gibbs, it’s just my opinion, but I think it stacks up well against art being produced anywhere else in New Zealand. Both artists are engaged with our contemporary world and its problems. Both are craftsmen; Gibbs with the humble graphite pencil, sculptured clay and metal. Beazley renders in detail highly imaginative mutant cartoon characters using oil paint. 

Beazley’s work should hit the spot with Nickelodeon fans. There’s a vibrancy and irreverence to the work, but always laced with darker tones and the sadness of lost innocence. It would be a good exhibition for high school art teachers to take their classes along to. 

The curatorial team has produced a small booklet full of colour reproductions of Beazley’s work, along with an interview with the artist. If you purchase a copy for $5 you get a free original ink drawing. A nice touch. In the booklet there’s a quote by Beazley that I like, he says: “My own art practice is not a place where I relax or release my soul; the beach is my place for that. I take my art relatively seriously as my job.” 

Creating art that speaks to people is not an easy thing; it requires an enormous amount of work and dedicated professionalism. And it must, I believe, seek a relationship with an audience. As tough as it is to show work in public and invite criticism, it’s essential to achieving art that has any relevance to people’s lives. 

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