Exhibitions Dunedin


Grant Gallagher
Greg Downie

At one point in the Pink Floyd film The Wall, a clich├ęd but superlatively studied breakdown leads the rock-star/main character to demolish the contents of his apartment. Later, long hours are spent crouched on the floor in a ritual of reconstruction, as fragments of all and sundry are pieced into a giant montage.

The gesture made by Grant Gallagher's Teenage Love, a collection of objects shown recently at the Red Metro Gallery, was of this kind; but rather than the wealthy-wicked remains of luxury, Gallagher has assembled the bijoux, the kitsch, the baubles, that function in its place - for those ordinary mortals who must have a substitute.

Gallagher's materials include beads of many kinds, fake pearls, jewels and flowers, hat-pins, chiffon, lace, 'silk', fluff', pictures and photographs cut out of magazines, children's swaps and wallpaper. These are mounted into montages, some reaching the decorativeness of icons, or constructed into small, shrine-like objects.

Untitled Montage 1984
mixed media, 530 x 300 mm.

The untitled pieces vary according to the mood that dominated their maker. Some, such as the two wallpaper montages, seem like gently-crazed still-lifes: languid wallpaper clouds float above a wallpaper guitar upon a pastel-patterned wallpaper backdrop. Others appear to obey the need to create a shrine to a particular individual/occasion, photographs and baubles being preciously stowed upon a bed of ripped paper in their own little box.

Two themes, however, dominate in Gallagher's output: the one, the predictable and irretrievably boring homage to male, heterosexual licentiousness, the other, the jewel box: symbol of the vulgar desire for wealth, in this case suitably encrusted with glamorous stones.

Teenage Love was teenage, not so much in that it purchased from those years in particular, but in that it engaged the contrasting elements of the teenage spirit: on the one hand, the wild glee and the initial, vibrant simplicity of pleasure, and on the other, the tawdry, cheap outcome of poorly judged indulgence.

The most-discussed work at the opening of Red Metro, late in 1982, was a construction by Greg Downie, then a sculpture student on the verge of completing the Fine Arts course at the Dunedin Polytechnic. Resembling the display counter of a pinball machine, Device For The Observation Of Greed presented sixteen transparent resin masks upon a mirrored surface. A precisely proportioned construction, positively indulging its high-lustre, steel, mirror and 'plastic' surfaces, Device tempted dismissal as merely decorative. Dismissal, however, tended to issue from an allied source: that the work was a one-off production whose terms could not be further elaborated.

One then has to say of Downie's new works shown at Red Metro that another series of one-off pieces has been produced, or else undertake to re-examine the motivations of these works.

Indeed the new works are one-off, not in the sense meant, but in that, constructed to appear as if they could be lithographed or screen-printed en masse, each one is in fact a painstaking, individual assemblage. The repeating motif of the shadowy sheep skull, which figures in many works as a number of skulls apparently photographed against a faint grid, or starkly screen printed, as in the complementary pair, Hot and Cold Landscapes, is in fact, a single, xeroxed unit, hand-coloured and pasted on to similarly prepared paper.

New Zealand Pyramid 1984


The reason for taking this exceptionally long way round lies in the finish that Downie desires for his work: a gradation of colour and density so finely tuned that conventional printing processes would need much the same volume of work in tampering to produce it. Hot and Cold Landscapes are irreproducably searing, near-metallic, shades of reel and blue respectively. The triangular, five-tiered arrangement of skulls is seen from nearly directly above, each skull underscored by a short, mean shadow, Overall the near-abstract configuration has a jumpy sense of motion, as if blipping towards the viewer in space invader formation.

Of course the mention of finish recalls the charge of decorativeness. Downie himself seems to be aware of the possible accusation of having 'gone commercial' to the extent that, at time uncomfortably, warnings are inserted into his works. The construction, New Zealand Pyramid, can be viewed purely as an exercise in Downie's finely-pared forms.

Pyramid is in fact a double pyramid, an inner one made of aluminium rods, each side a regular grid on which the inverted isosceles-shaped sheep skulls are impaled at the interstices, covered closely by the diamond grid wire-netting of an outer pyramid. But Pyramid also presents, less effectively, essentially the same witticism as Device, for with both, in so far as one is seduced by the lustrous surfaces, the invitation is thrown back, in the former case via the repellent skulls, and in the latter, care of the unseeing grin-grimace of the masks. The point is not that Downie should not tell the same joke twice, but that he doesn't need to.