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Art: Loyalty

Mon 31 Oct 2005 In: Events

In his new show at the Oedipus Rex gallery, Peter Wichman takes a somewhat misanthropic look at the theme of loyalty. With lots of visual puns on the 'ties' that bind, his is a jaundiced view of the behaviour of people in groups, with molto butt-kissing and sucking up. It's obvious from the most cursory glance that loyalty as depicted in these paintings is tied up with status. Or is that perceived status? Ties. oil on linen 60 x 101 cm Sometimes that loyalty and status are linked to employment, with various George Grosz-like bosses and their dehumanized secretaries and employees ('Interview', 'Bonds', 'Talent'). In other paintings, it's all to do with some form of socialising, most obviously in a sort of party-like atmosphere. And any gay man who has found himself in a group of gay men who have all kept their clothes on will get a frisson of recognition from 'Ties', possibly the most effective painting in the show. And the religious references - the wafers in 'Communion' and the halo-like light effect in the final painting 'Evening' - will come as no surprise to those who remember Wichman's bold nineties' show about the church and its difficulties with the subject of sex. The masklike, invariably unpleasant faces are often presented in settings suggestive of a staged event. Do we put on a mask, surrender some of our individuality and 'perform' in order to belong to a group? If we do, then in these works there is little subtlety about the actors' performances. Everyone seems absolutely desperate to be part of the group. It's like 'Death of a Salesman Meets Glengary Glenn Ross' or Bert Brecht's take on 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying'. But why don't we turn away from this desperation? What keeps us looking at these painting? At least four things. Wichman handles interior lighting wonderfully - the flat, unreal, 'concealed' interior lighting that is, of offices, of hotel reception and conference rooms, those sort of places hidden away in the Aotea Centre where the smug and the startled-looking gather for a free glass of bubbly during an interval at the opera or hear a lecture on the latest computer technology. And, as always, he has a wonderful eye for clothes - clothes as costumes, clothes as concealment, clothes as self-revelation and (particularly in this show) clothes as uniform, a way of belonging. Is that a reunion of Split Enz or Peewee Herman fans in 'Acknowledgement'? or maybe just a bunch of petty gangsters. They couldn't be our fellow employees, could they?! And very much tied up with the clothes (and the bland settings) is his effective (and brave) use of pastel colours (remember Debbie's cri de coeur in Addam's Family Values? All together now - 'Oh, Fester. Not pastels!') But pastels are colours that have been castrated, colours the equivalent of mass-produced white bread and neutered tom cats and therefore oh so suited to the loyalty on display here. But finally it's his flair for narrative (he is described as a 'literary historian' as well as a painter on the gallery website) that grabs us - 'What's happening here?' 'What's going to happen next?' Even without the occasional gun or surreptitious knife ('Soho'), there's still a disturbing but fascinating sense of potential violence lurking in these most social and everyday situations. Peter Wichman - 'Loyalty' Oedipus Rex Gallery, Auckland until 12 November 2005 John Curry - 31st October 2005    

Credit: John Curry

First published: Monday, 31st October 2005 - 12:00pm

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