In the Company of Animals

In the Company of Animals
Milford Galleries, Dunedin
April 12 – May 7 2014


Reuben Paterson’s latest exhibition, In the Company of Animals, is a forest of illusions where the artist’s continuing exploration of personal and social histories are offered in physical and metaphorical layers, beneath the immediate and alluring layers of reflected light and colour.


As seen in previous exhibitions, Paterson uses vintage floral designs as memory cues, a distillation of reminiscences of his extended family, in particular his mother and maternal grandmother. Each flower contains its own symbolic history and at the forefront of this, and Paterson’s choice of the poppy is a deliberate, symbolic one. Replete with historical associations, it extends the narrative of the works from the personal to the societal, reinforcing the idea of a continuum through time. The flowers have ‘taken root’ in the surface of the canvases and blossom above the picture plane; they create their own site-specific stories, as do individuals, families and communities.


Paterson’s hand-painted black and white paintings strongly recall the early works of Op-Art painter Bridget Riley as she used varying optical frequencies to create an actual physical engagement on the viewers’ part: “the viewer is cast as an active spectator in an arena in which nothing is stable and everything contributes to an overall impression of flux. Without resorting to depiction, her art imitates life and, in doing so, it draws her closer to the outside world.” (1)


Like Riley, Paterson uses contrast, tessellation and repetition to fool the eye and the brain into feeling actual movement where there is none. What starts as a purely visual exercise becomes a kinetic one as the viewer ‘experiences’ the pulsing rhythm and energy of each work; the illusion becomes real. Add to this the nature of Paterson’s refractive, reflective medium and the canvases seem to project a life force of their own.


Where Paterson’s practice diverges from that of Op-Art practitioners is that his kaleidoscopic, black and white patterns are much more than the product of mathematical formulae designed to trick the eye: his works are redolent with personal symbolism. In his hands each kaleidoscope is an abstracted, collaged image, and recalls gradations of land, sea, and sky (2); the rotations re-create the layers of time and history as the eye travels through each geometric landscape.


The strong juxtapositions of light/dark, geometric/organic, volume/surface creates visual tension, not only within and between individual works but throughout the exhibition as a whole. With the inclusion of the 3-dimensional works David and Laocoön, Paterson opens up dialogues between sculpture, painting and print: “The issue of depth is an ongoing concern of Paterson’s work, which uses light to animate and open up painting’s flat pictorial plane, and to challenge the assumptions we make of a fixed image. Increasingly, Paterson has questioned the parameters of the painterly surface; fixing foil in flight, incorporating photographic depth and creating large, installation-scale works that implicate the viewer more than ever before “ (3)


At over two metres tall, David is at once object and subject, as the viewer observes him deep in contemplation of The Nebula NGC in Scorpius. Like the screen-printed zebra and jaguar, and Laocoön snakes, he is exotic and unfamiliar, out of place and context – a non-native, like the poppies and kaleidoscopic flowers blooming on the walls.


In the Company of Animals rewards those who look, and then look again, with not one, but many stories as Reuben Paterson elicits engagement with his works on rational, sensory and symbolic levels.


1. Paul Moorhouse, “Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings 1961-2012”, Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings, 1961–2012, texts by J. Elderfield, P. Moorhouse and R. Kudielka, Ridinghouse in association with Holzworth Publications and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, 2013, p 42.


2. Reuben Paterson, Artist Statement, April 2014


3. Andrew Clifford, “Twice Upon a Time,” exhibition text for Twice Upon a Time, Gow Langsford Gallery, August 2012, accessed 7/4/14.


Lisa Wilke