28 May - 22 Jun 2002
Wonderworks actually brings Chris Heaphy full circle!
At Ilam Arts School, University of Canterbury in the early 80's he begun as a hard-edged abstract painter. However, an interest in figuration and the potency of symbolism is obvious in the quirky oil stick works on canvas and stretched tablecloths that dominated his output in the late 80's. The tablecloth as support, references the handmade (both colonial and Maori), and quite self-effacingly the Kemp Purchase (whereby Ngai Tahu sold much of the South Island for around 300 pounds) which was celebrated at the time, with the ritual of food and the feast. (That the Crown did not set aside "mahinga kai", or significant coastal pockets rich in kaimoana, provided the basis for the historic Ngai Tahu Deed of Settlement, signed in 1997.) These early works then, of which "Flowers" (reproduced below) is typical, were both lyrical and gently political.
A collaboration with the late Gordon Walters, for George Hubbard's Stop Making Sense at City Gallery, Wellington, started a brief and important friendship for both painters - a friendship which lasted until Walters'death late in 1996. At this point, Chris's painting still worked at both symbolic and narrative levels - the motifs of walking stick and moustache floating dreamily alongside floriate and card-playing imagery that eerily referenced colonial influences and also Maori prophets like Rua Kenana and Ratana.
Chris completed a Masters at RMIT, Melbourne in 1998, a period of research and teaching that culminated in the large multi-part "Merri", and related small canvas board works such as "Chocker" - reproduced below. Here is a simplicity of composition and form, redolent of both McCahon and Walters, that very much prefigures Wonderworks.
Then just before departing for his Cite Residency in Paris, Chris had the first show of the new millenium at Jonathan Smart Gallery. The four large panels of "Tohu & Te Whiti" leant easily against the High St frontage of one gallery, while the black-lit diptych "Te Ika and Te Waka a Maui" (Collection of The Christchurch Art Gallery), was luminous in the back gallery. At the show's conclusion, "Tohu & Te Whiti" was trucked up to the Parihaka Exhibition, Wellington - the venue for which it was commissioned. And Chris headed off to Paris - the results of which we see today!