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Indepth Arts News:

"Stephen Bambury"
1999-10-16 until 2000-01-16
City Gallery Wellington
Wellington, , NZ New Zealand (Aotearoa)

Paint, gold, graphite, lacquer - and 130 litres of engine oil laid out on the gallery floor*. The first major survey exhibition of painter Stephen Bambury will be a sensuous experience for visitors.

I use the allure of beauty of surface, colour and space to provide a runway into the work., says Bambury. This offers people a 'painting experience', something you don't have with anything else in the world.

Stephen Bambury is one of New Zealand's leading artists, with work in many important collections both here and abroad. The exhibition will bring to light little-known works, and those never seen before by the public, as well as some of his best known work. Spanning a 25 year career, it features around 60 pieces.

Stephen Bambury was born in Christchurch in 1951, and graduated with a Diploma of Fine Arts (Honours) from the Elam School of Fine Art, Auckland, in 1975. He has travelled to and exhibited in the United States, and in Australia where he was artist in residence at the Victoria College in Melbourne, in 1987. He was the recipient of the inaugural Moet et Chandon Fellowship in 1989. Based in France until 1992, he has since then lived in Auckland, though regular travel is still part of his art practice.

Throughout his career, he has built up close associations with other artists, and many of his works can be read as 'visual dialogues' with other artists. References to New Zealand artists appear in his work; from Milan Mrkusich in his earliest works, to Colin McCahon, allusions to whom have featured in a number of paintings since the late 1980s. Equally important are early abstractionists Malevich and Mondrian, American abstract artists Ad Reinhardt and Barnett Newman, and Bambury's contemporary, the Swiss artist Helmut Federle.

My work obviously speaks of this place, New Zealand, but it also speaks of somewhere else, he says. I want to break down the thinking of 'here and there'. We are the international.

Also of interest to Bambury is the space beyond the painting, and the works in this exhibition will play on interactions with the architecture of City Gallery Wellington. Bambury has chosen the North Gallery to display Ngamotu, a six metre long floor sculpture incorporating 130 litres of oil which has only been displayed once before in public . Ngamotu recalls a beach near New Plymouth, and the light reflected from a previously covered window in the North Gallery will be a key component in the work .

The exhibition features a number of 'miniatures', which Bambury says he produced as a reaction to the cliched big paintings that traditionally dominate the abstract genre. But whether working on a large or small scale, Bambury has always aimed to challenge the reputation for austerity and inaccessibility that abstract art has held. Seemingly orderly and perfect at first glance, a closer look at his work reveals twists to the formula. There are slight disruptions at times. The viewer will not be sure if something is straight or crooked, there will be a sense of uncertainty. I like to push towards that, he says.

Known for his intellectual rigour, Bambury explores many art historical and philosophical ideas in his work. But the sheer beauty of the works ensures that they have a broad general appeal. I'm committed to the idea of the richness of visual experience. Abstract art does have that ability to speak to people, he says. Bambury: Works 1975-1999 is curated by Dr Wystan Curnow, Associate Professor of English at the University of Auckland. A distinguished critic and curator, Dr Curnow has organised many exhibitions in New Zealand and overseas, and is well known as the author of books and essays on contemporary art. He has worked with City Gallery Wellington on Billy Apple: As Good As Gold (1991), and was co-curator of The World Over: Art in the Age of Globalisation, a joint venture with the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1996). A catalogue will accompany this exhibition, documenting the works and the many relationships with the architecture of the Gallery.

Stephen Bambury originated the artist's project, Necessary Correction, at the Auckland Art Gallery in 1997. His work also featured in Dream Collectors, staged at the newly opened Te Papa in 1998, Auckland Art Gallery and Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Large group shows have included A Very Peculiar Practice (City Gallery Wellington, 1995), and the touring exhibition Home and Away: Contemporary New Zealand and Australian Art from the Chartwell Collection, on display at Auckland Art Gallery.

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