Few artists get me shopping. For Blackberry Schnapps, Martin Basher had a couple of us driving around town hunting out long stemmed drinking glasses, men’s deodorant and crystals. There was even talk of a visit to an adult shop, but we thankfully found what we needed before then. I’m much more comfortable travelling within the conceptual territory this work opens up: a history of modernist abstraction, the legacy of Colin McCahon (this work was made in and of the studio at the McCahon House where Martin had a residency in 2011), the aesthetics of retail display, and the politics of consumption and excess.
Blackberry Schnapps has three components, but is anchored around a large banner. This was originally the drop cloth that protected the floor of the studio at the McCahon House. So the work was produced inadvertently, while Martin was working more consciously on two series of paintings. One of these paintings hangs right on top the banner itself – in what might feel like an aesthetic violation but is a thing of real beauty and wonder. The banner is rough and dirty, it carries waste from the paintings. You can see Martin’s footprints—connecting with that painterly tradition of studio practice where an artist like Jackson Pollock would work on the floor, from within and inside his own painting. The show is about that transition or elevation from the floor to the wall – that shift from support to sanctified art object. It’s concerned with the nature and politics of display and consumption, which extends out from the painting to take in the other elements of the show and room itself.
I remember seeing a knock out show by Martin titled Blackwater, in the old Michael Hirschfeld Gallery in 2006 - this brilliant Mad Max, post-apocalyptic/ survivalist forest environment. Since then, he has completed an MFA at Columbia University in New York, where he has developed a highly refined formal language based on fusing modernist forms with show room aesthetics. Everything is ultra slick, ultra bright, ultra packaged—all with a touch of American Psycho. His work addresses you as a consumer of product as well as a viewer of art. This approach allows Martin to move across and bring together painting, sculpture and installation— often featuring industrially produced and shop-brought objects. Underlying these investigations is a yearning or a search for significance or fulfilment—Basher’s work asks where we find such things in a commercialised and highly sensitised contemporary world, where does the sublime exist?
Martin is asking important questions of painting and sculpture, while making highly seductive objects that transform the gallery space and the experience of art. His work has shifted a lot over the eight years since Blackwater, but a similar range of concerns are being played out. He continues to test or dissolve those boundaries between the art object and non-art object or the hand made and the industrially produced. I’m taken with this new work, but also interested in these threads that run through his entire practice—hence the talk I’m giving called Martin Basher: Revisited. It’s with Sarah Farrar, who is now at Te Papa, but used to work here and was curator of the original show – so come along, 2pm Sunday 8th of June.
Aaron Lister, Curator
Photo: Shaun Waugh