City Gallery

Past exhibition

The Self: An Exhibition of Self-Portraits

18 September–22 October 1986

ARTISTS Billy Apple, Michael Armstrong, Philip Clairmont, Shona Davies, Margaret Dawson, Claire Fergusson, Di Ffrench, Tony Fomison, Jeffrey Harris, Alexis Hunter, Megan Jenkinson, Tony Lane, Doris Lusk, Richard McWhannell, Charo Oquet, Ralph Paine, Alan Pearson, Claudia Pond-Eyley, Peter Ransom, Marie Shannon, Sylvia Siddell, Merlyn Tweedie, Robin White, Toss Woollaston, Jane Zusters CURATOR Errol Shaw ORGANISER Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson OTHER VENUES Hastings City Cultural Centre; Wairarapa Arts Foundation, Masterton, 26–17 December 1986; Gisborne Museum and Arts Centre, 8 January–1 February 1987; Rotorua Art Gallery, 18 February–15 March 1987; Aigantighe Art Gallery, Timaru, 10 April–10 May 1987; Forrester Gallery, Oamaru PUBLICATION essay John Hurrell

The Self is a theme show, with a postmodern twist. It considers 'decentred, fragmented, and suspicious' attitudes to the self in self-portraits by twenty-five New Zealand artists. It's designed as a touring show and the catalogue's foreword offers a disclaimer. Errol Shaw explains, it's been organised 'specifically to suit the limited budgets of the smaller institutions'.

The earliest work is a poster promoting Billy Apple's 1975 New Zealand exhibition tour. Born Barry Bates, Apple is a self-made man. In the 1960s, he changed his name to Billy Apple and began to explore the idea of the artist as a brand.

Shona Davies, Toss Woollaston, Doris Lusk, and Tony Fomison depict themselves in solitude, promoting a more romantic idea of the artist.

In the Evening Post, Ian Wedde writes: 'It is notable that the woman tend to be more sceptical about "self" than the men, some of whom have stayed faithful to bohemian romances of one kind or another, with implicit pleas for understanding, love or appreciation.'

Women artists downplay the idea of artist as lone suffering genius. Alexis Hunter's expressionistic painting Portrait of the Artist as a Young Bitch Barking at Nothing (1985) has her as a lone wolf woman, on all fours. It's the catalogue-cover image. In a photo, Di Ffrench dons a hat like that worn by the man in Jan van Eyck's famous 1434 The Arnolfini Portrait. In another Margaret Dawson dresses as a marching girl, Cindy Sherman style. Marie Shannon's photo, A Rat in the Lounge (1985), suggests alienation. There's a backstory. The artist apparently dressed up as a rat for a costume party, only to find she was the only one in costume.

In the Dominion, Rob Taylor gives the show short shrift: 'Among those the theme suits there is a tendency for an alternate theme to emerge—the artist as someone else.'