An artist’s trick of the eye

Matamata Chronicle - - Your Paper, Your Place - PETER DORNAUF

The dou­ble take can some­times be a mo­ment of aware­ness, a re­al­i­sa­tion, even a rev­e­la­tion. It hap­pens a good deal in art, es­pe­cially the best of it. It hap­pened the other day while I was vis­it­ing var­i­ous shows in town. The dou­ble take. At the Waikato Mu­seum I came across a mod­est lit­tle black and white pho­to­graph of a ubiq­ui­tous sub­ur­ban scene – brick house, garage, con­crete drive, car in the drive­way; some­thing very or­di­nary, seen in count­less new sub­di­vi­sions across the city.

Only it wasn’t a pho­to­graph. I dis­cov­ered this when I looked down at the la­bel.

It was the work of Ruth Cle­land (a Hamil­ton-born artist) and the medium was graphite – a pen­cil draw­ing.

It was so metic­u­lously ren­dered that it looked, on first take, to be a pho­to­graph.

The French call this trick ’’trompe l’oeil’’. It means ‘‘to fool the eye’’. I was fooled, but be­ing duped was part of the process that trig­gered an aware­ness.

One is made to think again about what one is look­ing at.

Why would some­one want to go to such ex­tra­or­di­nary pains to re­pro­duce in pen­cil what could be sim­ply cap­tured in a pho­to­graph? In fact, the process prob­a­bly in­volved tak­ing a photo of the place and then spend­ing hours copy­ing it. We call this hy­per­re­al­ism. We might ooh and aah over the skill in­volved, but there’s more go­ing on here than a mere demon­stra­tion of painstak­ing craft skills.

What the artist wants us to re­ally see is the sheer ba­nal­ity of this ur­ban im­age repli­cated a thou­sand times across the city.

Here is a pic­ture that speaks of con­form­ity, con­ser­vatism and com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion in spades. And she got us to think about that be­cause she ar­rested our eyes us­ing a sub­terfuge.

Right next door on the same wall of the gallery was a paint­ing by an­other Hamil­ton-born artist, Richard Lewer.

It was an im­age, again, of a very or­di­nary thing, a red brick build­ing, this time a church, one of those struc­tures of lit­tle ar­chi­tec­tural merit, prob­a­bly built in the 1970s: pedes­trian, unimag­i­na­tive, a dime a dozen and cheap and nasty.

Lewer paints in a faux naı¨ve style.

It’s a so­phis­ti­cated form of dumb­ing down, de­lib­er­ately em­ploy­ing a form that re­sem­bles the work of an ama­teur painter.

There’s a dou­ble take in that it­self. Lewer called his paint­ing ‘‘Re­mem­ber the Sab­bath Day to Keep it Holy’’.

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