Black Matters

Black Matters
Milford Galleries, Dunedin
March 25 – April 19 2017


Reuben Paterson’s practice has always been closely bound together with the ways in which light interacted with his glitter canvases: Black Matters takes this involvement to a deeper level. As well as exploring the reflections and refractions of light across the surface of his paintings, in this new body of work light itself becomes the subject. Focussing on the brief beauty of fireworks, the artist explores the immediacy of the ephemeral and the paradox of its capture in time and space.


Delicate traceries of sky-rockets explode across the dark surface of Afternoon Delight. The stark contrast of light and dark establishes a depth of field, emphasising the illusion of forward movement – an illusion which is then reinforced by the physical depth Paterson has obtained in these works. Layer upon layer of glitter creates a sculptural surface, which provides another (literal) facet that affects the way light moves across the canvas.


Paterson sets up a deliberate tension between the improbable constancy of the light as subject matter and the dynamism of the glitter as it reacts to external light sources. This internal paradox is complemented by his use of dense black backgrounds. Black absorbs the full light spectrum, reflecting nothing. In Black Matters however, it is suffused with light and ever-changing – it possesses the evanescence that no longer exists in the frozen bursts of fireworks, whose only radiance now comes from the medium that has rendered them motionless.


With a title that deliberately references the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement, Paterson turns a traditionally sombre colour into one filled with energy. This subtle social commentary is embedded in The Best Orgasm of Your Life, which is created from “all skin tone colours… each and every beautiful coloured spark of life”.(1.) From its joyful title to the sparkling complexities of the glitter patterns, the work celebrates the vitality of human existence in all its hues.


Black Matters is a significant new direction for Reuben Paterson: the artist has turned his works in on themselves. The fleeting instance of illumination has always been integral to his practice but here Paterson makes the fleeting instance the very point of reference in and of itself. His self-reflexive examination of the relationship between what is seen and how it is seen sets up a sophisticated visual and intellectual experience for the viewer.


Lisa Wilkie
March 2017


1. Reuben Paterson. Artist Statement, March 2017.