Philippa Blair


Camouflage: recent paintings by Philippa Blair
Catalogue essay

`Extending paint to its limit, pushing the medium into new directions’, is how Philippa Blair describes the way her abstract works occur. The canvases, whether large or small in scale, solo or in diptych form, are characteristically dynamic “fields of action”, of colour, texture, line and form. Aside from their indisputable drama, there is also humor (and cheekiness) in them too, often through their bricolage technique. By this I mean, bringing different styles and pigments to coexist in a canvas as though emulating the chaos (as much as rhythm) of everyday life. The arc-like sweeps of a squeegee, for instance, the fine lattice webs made by stenciling, the armature of line, the benday dots (like the Pop era), the full brush strokes with drips unchecked that remind one of De Kooning, and not least, the intentional “mish-mash” like a Polke or work by newer talent Albert Oehlen. But Blair is her own master and although she has stated an admiration for these and other painters (especially Kandinsky) her course remains personal and independent.

For some 14 years now, the artist has lived in Los Angeles with her architect husband – first at Venice Beach and more recently at the port settlement of San Pedro. Moving permanently from New Zealand to the United States in the early 1990s brought with it the re-shaping of a career that was already well established. The shift in location of her studio prompted imagery that was linked to her home country but increasingly reflected a very different geographical, cultural and urban landscape. For some artists, the shift from one context to another hardly alters the tenor of their practice, yet for Blair, changes in the ambience and dynamics of place are crucial.

She brings to her paintings now an improvisational dynamism that reflects Southern California, and one that could not succeed without formal training, a respect for the power of chance encounters and of the mind-body dichotomy. Her years of dedicated experience as a professional artist, honing her eye and unafraid to take formal and conceptual risks have resulted in images of considerable authority. Here, in this current exhibition, there are paintings that take you into a terrain that simultaneously evokes the senses, not only of sight but also of music and sound, of the crackle of electronics, or the brute force of industry piercing the air as much as the peace and beauty of a beloved home. Then more clandestinely, there is imagined evidence of the sole graffiti performer with his spray can, the totemic figures of Jung’s unconscious coming forth and the palimpsest – like layers of colour that contribute to configuring memories of times past. She maps both topographical and psychological territories as much as those of process, taking the viewer on journeys that are not predictable and comfortable but are always energizing and inspirational.

Dr. Anne Kirker