Artist Rohan Wealleans admits his upcoming solo exhibition at City Gallery Wellington is “deeply uncool,” in a Dungeons and Dragons kind of way.
“I didn’t want to do a show about wizards,” he says, “but the wizard pimping kind of just happened.” Wealleans is referring to a collection of 48 paintings and two large sculptural pieces which open to the public in a show titled Apocalyptic Intuition on Saturday 23 June 2012 at City Gallery Wellington.
Employing his trademark technique of painstakingly layering paint repeatedly over surfaces, Wealleans’ is well-known in the New Zealand art world for his radical approach which takes the paint off the canvas, creating works which are both confronting and a little in your face.
City Gallery New Zealand Art Curator Aaron Lister explains, “With this show Wealleans’ is taking his boundary pushing one step further by actually allowing gallery visitors to climb inside two of his large sculptural “paintings” as well as view a series of 48 paintings on the wall. This new body of work transforms the gallery into something other, magical and alien. This is a realm of wizards and fallen giants, of spells and enchantment, all summoned through layer upon layer of bright acrylic house paint.”
Wealleans’ often references popular cultural forms and as Lister notes, “the more B-grade the better, tainting the serious art of painting with the low-brow amusements of the arcade or the video store.”
Here the two large sculptures in the show, the Wizard of Forgotten Flesh (2012) and Psychosis chamber of the oracle (2012) are created from abandoned film studio props. The wizard figure was a prop from the ABC television series Legend of the Seeker (2008-2010), while a giant sculptural polystyrene head was originally a character on Xena: Warrior Princess.
For Wealleans’ the film props and base objects used for his artworks are reworked through the transformative powers of paint. “The head is the wizard's hangout pad," he says. The interior is lined with sheep's wool and houses a modified fortune-telling Bratz doll. "It's all quite luxurious inside and I’m calling it a James Bond Arctic Love Nest," he laughs.
Visitors will be able to climb inside the sculptural painting which has been decorated inside and out.
“Each work has been painted at least sixty times over, over a period of months and months,” he says. He then gouges out sections of the paint using craft knives to unveil the layers of colour underneath the paint surface. From here he creates “gems” or small bumps out of the carved sections which create an almost moon surface-like appearance.
For Wealleans’ the exhibition marks a shift towards more male-centric content. “My last big show was photography of a somewhat pornographic nature. This is like the first man focused one for me so it’s a bit of a shift. I’m finding working with images of men is really different to images of women.”
“I do enjoy the hands-on nature of my work. I like working with the paint that almost looks like cartoon meat. I’m a bit of a cave man. I’m no good on computers and things so I enjoy getting stuck in and getting my hands dirty.”
On the main gallery wall 48 paintings are on display representing four acts in twelve, of a young wizard character’s life. This character based narrative is rooted in fantasy and science fiction and represents a fantastical tale of a wizard’s family history and conception, an alien abduction, training and final battle. Each painting depicts a spell from the stages of the character’s journey.
This exhibition marks the largest display of Wealleans’ work thus far in his career. “It’s been such a long time in the making. I’ve been working on the sculptures for almost two years. The giant head has been in my carport for so long and it’s really exciting to see it all come together.”