21 April–09 June 201221 Apr–09 Jun 2012
In 1981, Benjamin Buchloch wrote his essay ‘Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression’. There, he lamented the fact that numerous early-twentieth-century avant-gardists—including Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia, and Kasmir Malevich—had turned their backs on abstraction and the readymade and ‘regressed’ to old-school art styles and themes. (At the time he was writing, a nostalgic neo-expressionism was similarly usurping the ‘advanced’ art of modernist abstraction and conceptualism.) Daydream Believers looks at artists who would doubtless have drawn Buchloch’s ire—artists who operate in the thrall of history and revel in retro.
Christchurch printmaker Jason Greig is identified with the ‘New Zealand Gothic’. He draws inspiration from French symbolist artists, gothic writers, horror films, and heavy-metal music. His monoprints feature debased romantic imagery: vikings and Victorians, brooding Heathcliffe-types, wraiths, temptresses, necromancers, and grim reapers. His series The Phaedra Chain sets emaciated female figures in black against stained backgrounds, which range from cold and dank to hellishly florid.
Australian David Noonan, now based in London, is also interested in decaying, deteriorating imagery. He reproduces black-and-white photographic images, enlarging them onto linen and jute canvases through screenprinting, emphasising their contrast and coarse dot screens. The effect is not poppy (it couldn’t be further from Rauschenberg and Warhol), but more melancholy. Noonan favours subjects from the 1970s counterculture period, particularly images of thespians in make-up, costumes, and masks. Some of his images retain a documentary quality, others seem surreal. Noonan revels in the poetic obscurity of his sources, sometimes collaging images or superimposing them in a dreamy dissolve. He persistently draws attention to his canvases as textiles, emphasising their textures, patching them, and leaving edges frayed. His interest in fabrics recently drew him to create two tapestries with Melbourne’s Australian Tapestry Workshop, which will be seen together for the first time in Australia in Daydream Believers.
Sydney painter John Spiteri is a master of pastiche. His mannered, trope-laden works are utterly eclectic. Spiteri synthesises secondhand images, styles, and devices, whose origins one can’t quite place—one reviewer lists ‘vases, Balinese-dancer hands, laurels, masks, and thin alienlike figures’. Despite its wide art-historical image repertoire, Spiteri’s lyrical arcadia is held together by his idiosyncratic sensibility. In one recent piece, Spring Fashion, a glass painting of foliage is supported by an unearthed tree trunk, whose dangling roots are tipped with cast concrete feet; a canvas hangs from the lone protruding branch.
New-Zealand-born, London-based sculptor Francis Upritchard is known for her installations featuring faux-artefacts and coloured figurines. Her works evoke mythic realms: sometimes a bit Egyptian (her coptic jars), a bit Roman, or a bit Middle Earth. Her little people suggest pilgrims, sages, and shamen of old, but also dancers, drug-addled hippies, and other revelers. As much as her rootsy romanticism and medieval revivalism seem linked with 1970s counterculture, they also connect with the English Arts and Crafts Movement and the Viennese Secession. Daydream Believers features two installations Upritchard made for Save Yourself, her solo show at the 2009 Venice Biennale, where her figures and objects rest on tables created by her partner, Italian furniture designer Martino Gamper.
A showcase for glass paintings, monoprints, tapestries, furniture, and figurines, Daydream Believers celebrates historical fantasy, craft, decor, and other ‘ciphers of regression’.