By Peter Dornauf
Sep 28, 2018

Make It the Same but Different


The catch cry for the modernist in the visual arts was ‘make it new’. Everyone else was doing so during the period—Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, Einstein, T. S. Eliot—so artists were admonished to do the same; to keep up.

And they did. Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian and a hundred others made their art new and up-to-date. Abstraction was born.

The catch cry one hundred years later in the postmodern period was ‘make it the same but different’.

Why? Because the “new” had been exhausted. It was played out. The solution was to recycle, revisiting former styles, but doing so with a twist; often an ironic one to show how sophisticated you were. You knew the score. In the art fraternity, it’s called appropriation. You see it in popular culture, fashion and architecture; quoting the past.

A classic example of such is on show at Skinroom Gallery in Frankton. Wintec tutor Geoff Clarke and former Wintec student Philip Mcilhaggar have a dual exhibition of works which exemplify something of the postmodern mood.

Clarke loves the tradition of hard-edge abstraction but, in good postmodern style, he quotes from all over the place. There’s bits of Op Art (Bridget Riley) in there, references to Frank Stella, a nod to Kurt Wedgley, a touch of Pop; all part of a hybrid mix. And, to top it off, he employs the latest print and laser-cutting technology as a means of extending the conventions of abstraction.

But does all this card shuffling work? Well, yes. His wooden wall hangings—part sculptural; part paintings—present a dynamic freshness to the old tradition. They glow and hum with a sly vibrancy as they playfully cite their sources and call on the vernacular tropes that exist at popular cultural levels.

Mcilhagga has a similarly eclectic approach. Working with pint-size canvases, he is injecting new life into the abstract formula by reconfiguring a whole array of common notations: grids, triangulation, ovals, zig-zag, dots, and dashes. Neither completely hard-edge nor totally expressive, he hovers teasingly between the two forms; creating a fertile frisson while doing so.

The thing about abstraction though is the perennial question: ‘what does it all mean?’ 

Clarke recognizes that there are conflicting vocabularies, complicated by the bogey of relativism. The way forward is, perhaps, to reach out to the colloquial which Clarke attempts and Mcilhagga juggles with.

‘Cry Baby’, the title of the show, sneers at the social narcissism of the Gen Y. Millennials. Don’t be a sook. The age of the amalgamation is upon us. 

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