Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I've written before about the way certain artists come to completely own the landscape they live and work in. I can't see photographs of Long Island, for example, without the view rearranging itself into an Edward Hopper painting: I've had Ed Ruscha moments in L.A., driving past anonymous motels and gas stations; in Christchurch in the spring and summer, there are weeks on end presided over by Bill Sutton skies.

William Sutton, Plantation Series II, c.1985, oil on canvas, Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery

There's such a characteristic feeling of uncanny displacement when you come across a scene in the real world that you already know from an artwork. (Probably the most memorable occasion of this for me was entering New York at night for the first time, riding in the back of a yellow cab with steam rising from vents in the road, having watched Taxi Driver 200 times previously at home in New Zealand.) Less often it can happen with objects: I can't see old road signs or enamel-ware now without thinking of Rosalie Gascoigne, or arrangements of wine glasses on a table without recalling Bill Culbert's photographs taken at his home near the Luberon.

These moments when the real world gives way to the artwork are intensely familiar, yet at the same time out of place, transporting you between the actual and the virtual and back again in the blink of an eye. Not only does an artwork motion you towards a particular way of seeing, it also invites you to focus on the kind of singular detail that gets lost in the maelstom of daily life. I think these experiences are among the most rewarding of the art life.

Walking back from school this morning it happened twice.

First I saw a Gavin Hipkins in the park.

Left: Gavin Hipkins, The Homely: Sydney (Flower), 1999, back cover of catalogue.

And then why, I wondered foolishly as it turned out, are they illustrating a Simon Morris painting on a real estate sign? A house of art collectors?

Left: Simon Morris, Protein, 1993, acrylic on aluminium, Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki. Right: The QR Code on a Harcourts Real Estate sign in Leinster Road, Christchurch.

I'm interested here not only in the way that experiences of the real world are mediated by works of art, but the way in which an encounter with a work of art can be enlarged by seeing its equivalent in everyday life. This traction between the familiar and the strange, the actual and the virtual, is what the experience of a work of art is all about, it seems to me.

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