Oliver Perkins: A Kind of Arrow / Free-Range

Robyn Maree Pickens reviews the exhibition at Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 28 May–16 October 2022.

Oliver Perkins’s concurrent projects at Dunedin Public Art Gallery—an exhibition of paintings, A Kind of Arrow, and a large wall painting, Free-Range—are his most significant and substantial architectural interventions to date. The exhibition is on one side of the building and the wall work on the other, but the wall work can be glimpsed through a double-paned window in the exhibition’s gallery. This window extends to form an arrow shape, perhaps recalling the upper section of Perkins’s house-shaped rope-and-dowel hanging works from 2019.

If dowel served as an oversized element in Perkins’s more familiar, rectangular, painted objects, it has been elided from this suite, only to reappear as six orange, vertical, aluminium poles at enormous scale in the large orange-and-blue wall work Free-Range. Rather than the tubular balcony-rails of 1990s apartment buildings in Alicante, Spain, where he has lived—previously cited as an influence on Perkins’s use of the dowel—the scale and medium of these aluminium poles reference the hand and balcony rails of the gallery’s own stairwell and atrium. This combination of wall paint and poles in turn comprises all five of the different coloured ‘wall paintings’ interspersed throughout A Kind of Arrow.

Of these five works, the two freestanding walls—one titled A Red Wall, the other untitled—function as scalar iterations of Free-Range (smaller) and the paintings in the exhibition (bigger) respectively. With two vertical poles demarcating a triptych, A Red Wall is a dramatically scaled-down version of Free-Range, while the other wall hosts the titular painting A Kind of Arrow in a way that is reminiscent of Perkins’s insert paintings, which are the predominant formal device in this exhibition.

With the exception of two works (both Untitled, 2021), the other nineteen small-to-medium-sized paintings become akin to painted objects through the addition of a second smaller painting held in place by strips of canvas from the host painting. Given the predominance of this accretive structure, it is perhaps more interesting to consider this physical relationship than to list the aesthetic citations to other abstract artists evident in these works.

Perkins’s ‘insert paintings’ evoke ideas from psychoanalysis, philosophy, and digital-media theory. The host painting, the superstructure or background, operates as a holding environment for an additional or foreground painting. In each instance, this smaller painting is securely clasped or enveloped by the host. The host is a dwelling place, a habitat, a domicile for the second painting. If the larger painting is the host, can the smaller painting be perceived as guest? And what is the nature of this hospitality? To whom is it extended? In some works, such as Crow Black (2021), it is offered to something similar (‘cut from the same cloth’); in other works, such as Mosaic (2021), it is offered to the radically other. The very closeness of these canvases draws attention to their haptic affordances, the ways in which they are in touch with each other.

More from this issue

Nigel Borrell reviews the exhibition at Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery, 18 June–18 September 2022.
Caroline McQuarrie reviews the exhibition at Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery, 9 April–26 June 2022.
Arihia Latham reviews the exhibition at Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua, 28 May–21 August 2022.
Robyn Maree Pickens on a master of conceptual meandering.
This follows its inclusion in Horror: Messaging the Monstrous at MoMA, 23 June–5 September 2022.
Robert Leonard reviews the exhibition at Bartley and Company Art, 19 May–18 June 2022.

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