State of Princes inaugural exhibition...
State of Princes first opened their doors to the Dunedin public with the appropriately titled ‘One’ exhibition on the last Friday of May 2015. Upon entering, the mission of the gallery became clear: to offer an intimate environment for the people of Dunedin to experience contemporary New Zealand art. Princes Street itself acts as an imperceptible observer, silently staring into the gallery through the large front window: a dynamic that exemplifies the notion of “breaking the fourth wall.”
A quietly confident arrangement adorned the walls of the gallery, consisting of artworks by three recognisable artists: James Cousins, Saskia Leek and John Ward Knox. The layout of ‘One’ was similar to a conversation; the petite artworks by Saskia Leek and John Ward Knox seemed to be in a dialogue with James Cousins sizeable canvases. By staggering the placement of paintings in accordance of size, visitors’ eyes were lead around the gallery, and this flow maximised the modest space.
The work of James Cousins feels both familiar and otherworldly, like a fading memory. His paintings depict images within images, as seen in Untitled (Lemon Bloom) where a floral arrangement, windowpane and horizon merge together to offer a new perspective each time it is looked at. The artist creates his works via a process which involves the use of vinyl stencils during painting. This in turn creates layers within the work, although at first glance they appear undetectable to the eye. Mood and climate are intertwined in his imagery, from the steam-like contentment of Untitled (26 Ardisia Crispa) to the torrential rain anxiousness in Untitled (463 Pollaedii).
Saskia Leek’s pastel toned paintings explore the play between light, form and colour. The works are all named Untitled, to allow for the visual play of her work to speak for itself. Her favoured subject matter includes figures, portraits, landscapes and abstracted forms. Leek aligns the background with the forefront, as seen in her work depicting a bagpiper upon rolling hills, which alludes to the notion that the landscape is just as important as the figure that stands atop it. This painting contains the familiar Scottish - Dunedin reference, but by weaving the bagpiper into the landscape Leek implies that it all began with the Otago hills. Both Leek and Cousins’ practice seems to reference the past, but their reinterpretations have a fresh and dreamy feel to them.
John Ward Knox critiques humankind’s obsession with excess through the beautiful and contentious Smokes, an artwork resembling cigarette butts but fashioned out of human finger bones. Smoking, while considered to be a pleasurable activity, is also addictive and harmful – a bundle of contradictions that is capitalised upon by businesses hoping to turn a profit. By creating a “smoke” out of a human remains and presenting them in a self-fulfilling state of already consumed, Ward Knox reveals the darkness to human nature’s thirst for insidious indulgence and financial gain.
Golden but does not occupy a physical presence in State of Princes, existing now only as a story and a photograph documenting the solid gold objects. A discarded bottle cap, cigarette butt, and piece of chewing gum; the process of casting these throwaway objects in precious metal elevates their value, however Ward Knox’s action of returning them to the streets where he found them eradicates the possibility of potential possession or ownership in an artistic environment. All of these objects reference the human mouth, where consumption occurs. This aligns humans with parasites, satirising the status and value we install in our own species. Dunedin is a city that initially prospered on the goldmining trade, and by tossing solid gold rubbish back to the streets Ward Knox references that history.
‘One’ excellently demonstrated State of Princes’ ease at showcasing different contemporary artworks in a way that ebbs and flows to create a cohesive interchange. The brainchild of a painter and a photographer, this gallery is an amalgamation on several levels: the dealer gallery meets artist run space; local artists are exhibited beside those who are well established nationally. Dunedin has long had an intensely artistic underbelly, and with the fortunate addition of State of Princes, there is now a fresh platform to join in conversation about Contemporary art with other major New Zealand cities.
Georgia Phillips, 2015