From Carrie Miller…
Over the past twenty years, Shane Cotton has been considered one of New Zealand’s most accomplished and acclaimed painters. In particular, his landscapes from the period of the 1990s were seen as a key contribution to critical discourses in art about notions of place and belonging, and the issue of bicultural identity.
He is best known for combining traditional Maori iconography with European symbols, suggestive both of his own bicultural identity and as a way of thinking through questions of colonialism that are at the heart of New Zealand’s identity and culture. During the 1990sand early 2000s the artist concentrated on the landscape genre, then Cotton’s work took a significant turn in the mid-2000s with the introduction of skyscapes. These were vast and nocturnal, spaces where Cotton’s strange birds swoop. He has developed this subject matter with the incorporation of sketchy skywriting and ghostly images, in Maori terms upoko tuhituhi or ‘marked heads’. These motifs are not merely decorative – the words and images also constitute political content that Cotton renders with an immediacy that implies the significance of the issues.
The Hanging Sky is an exhibition of this recent work as well as an entirely new body of work commissioned for the show. This group of works include painted baseball bats that suggest the idea of both trophies and weapons.
While this show displays his recent, less iconic work, it still showcases what Cotton is best known for: the capacity to render an intriguing and seductive mix of elements of two cultures which are more than just a didactic response to the issues raced by colonisation.
Until May 19
Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown
Pic: Shane Cotton, The Painted Bird, 2010. Acrylic on linen. Courtesy of the Woodward family collection.