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FEBRUARY – CARBON – AUCKLAND

Variously described as the “king of all elements”, Carbon is the common denominator to all known life…a kind of atomic glue that insinuates itself into every facet of life – so much so that the “carbon cycle” imparts energy to us, to the sun and to the stars.

This endless conversion of material – elements taking one form into another in an infinite, looping succession finds a quiet imitation in art.

Gunter Umberg’s paintings present the most enigmatic, yet resolute experience of material and space. Umberg’s space is thick. His carbon pigments compressed in a kind of material fusion that gives his paintings mass and spectacular density. This body asserts an undeniable presence that transcends the fundamentalist rhetoric around the monochrome.

Umberg’s rectangular forms, small or large are calibrated to the human body and as such they stand as metaphysical portraits, composed of carbon they are foundational and poignant metaphors for our own final condition.

Ceara Metlikovec’s large drawings place us in front of a gently oscillating screen – one that steps in and out of a caliginous depth. If Umberg moves us into a deep and uncertain space, Metlikovec’s compels our eyes back and forth across the picture plane. Like Agnes Martin, Metlikovec establishes the province and begins a regime of marking the paper. Inching across this field, gesture by single gesture, until it is complete. This accumulation of single vertical graphite bands traces time and pressure.

Like a closely observed genome map these barcodes carry data in their form, their material and in their processional gesture.

One assumes that for Metlikovec, such a mantra-like process is a way to negate the diversions of intrusive thinking – to empty the mind amidst the process. What one finds of course is that these works are open to being ambushed by meaning and possibility. Metlikovec’s touch and the sensitive interface between graphite and paper produces works that have a both a delicacy and a structured anatomy to them.

Matthew Allen’s new paintings are mostly intimate in scale. Their size and proportion calls us into close contact with their depth and their edges and the exquisitely made surfaces. Each panel pushes out from wall advancing a rectangle of light that sits in our space as much as its own. The polished graphite responds to any flux in light, variously darkening and illuminating as we move around them. As marvellous as this material play is, it is when we are within arms length that we sense their capacity to be both incorporeal and bodily, to be intangible and concrete.

Gabriel de la Mora chooses materials that are already laden with, perhaps burdened by their history. This material cargo is welcomed, even celebrated because of its capacity to further infuse his work with character and a supplementary narrative.

There is something of this weight and intensity in the objects Joseph Beuys made – objects salvaged and redolent with an implied tragedy, born out by the disintegration and fragility of the materials and their previous human engagement. This material vicissitude is not necessarily unwelcome for de la Mora, rather by altering the circumstances of them; he opens them up to new interpretations and responsibilities.

Gabriel de la Mora takes a modestly scaled, primed canvas and partially burns it. This gesture has more ferocity than Fontana’s slashing and puncturing of the linen. This is not an elegant wound, but rather a conceptual disfigurement. The canvas is charred along with a portion of the stretcher. Though the structure of the support is not completely compromised, de la Mora has set a new process of decay in motion. The marks made on the canvas, the rents and the sooty streaks are all carbon.

Arik Levy’s faceted sculptures speak directly to the crystalline formations that underlie the architecture of everything from steel to diamonds. Single gem-like forms, sometimes stacked in chains that themselves resemble molecular structures, Levy’s objects present a pristine material face and yet their deeper atomic anatomy is shared by de la Mora’s fiery residue, Umberg’s pigment and Metlikovec’s graphite screens.

Levy’s work might be seen to celebrate the exquisite organic architecture that exists all around. Emblematic of the structural substrates of everything in our universe, Levy’s shimmering steel elemental forms magnify the element inviting us to reflect on its mutli-faceted duties.