Exhibitions Auckland


BRENT WONG Recent Paintings

Brent Wong is the architect of alienated space in New Zealand. He has painted and detailed the phenomenon of emptiness: not physical emptiness, but psychic emptiness. It is modelled impeccably in his petrified landscapes and his uninhabited human structures. He has arrived on the unhuman landscape and, like the colonist, left on it evidence of human will. Pioneers struggled to build their positive vision. Brent Wong shows in the loneliness and dereliction of his buildings, the failure and negation in that vision.

And there is in it the irony of the painter's own position. He too has tried to build well. His care and technique are in themselves statements of faith in human purpose, though they are dedicated to showing how such purpose is devastated by time and failure. Look at his pristine images of decline and you see the same futility that struck the observer in Shelley's Ozymandias. The colonial too can look on his works and despair.

Balloon acrylic
(Peter Webb Galleries)

Each of the paintings has its emblem of human meaning. At times it is whimsical, as in the case of the balloon in Untitled Scene, or surreal, as in the case of the sea-shell in Trauma. Mostly they are houses, houses deserted somehow by the human psyche that created them. The surrounding is always a landscape, defined to the point of pain. Human creations do little to humanize this frozen earth. They just underline the fact of its emptiness. The theme of emptiness haunts us in the land, haunts us despite the ornate Gothic friezes on those houses with which we tried to occupy and decorate space, despite the dreams of technology that drift, embodied in a barrage balloon across brown, silent hills.

There are no people here, only evidence of people. We are archaeologists, psychic archaeologists looking at the remains of our vision. And this vision is not a remote past from which we are disconnected. It is still within us. It is our continuing sense of. emptiness. Nor have we, the builders of our vision, found any sense of belonging on the acrylic slopes of Brent Wong's hills. Here, human activity, signified by the human object is separate from the structure of the land. Each is defined absolutely in its isolation. Their juxtaposition in the paintings produces a profound sense of dislocation.

Not only are there no people: there is little evidence of life itself. The motion, the metamorphosis, the perpetual emergence of forms that is life seems to have ceased here. Nature is capable of no further development. It has reached its final definition. Time has been completed, organic processes arrested in the frame of the imagination.

So this is the timelessness that pervades Brent Wong's images: a despairing timelessness, a timelessness of the mind, fixed in its desolation.

The style originates on the one hand from the bizarre moment of European surrealism made by Magritte, and on the other, from the strongly defined, muscular hills of New Zealand itself. Brent Wong has reconciled the pang of subjectivity that is our life - the subjectivity that Magritte painted with such enigmatic authority in his work - with the reality of New Zealand space, silence and emptiness. The result has many levels of meaning; echoes that bounce back from deep within the psyche, surfaces that gratify by the technical strength with which they are painted.

One may question the emotional range of the work: it is narrow, its definition being so strong that one wonders whether it will be the basis of anything beyond itself. But the painter's direction can be found only by himself. Brent Wong certainly has sufficient capacity to meet the demands of his further development.