Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bye-bye bio

What could be harder than describing abstract paintings? Describing them for over 113 pages of text is a start. But that’s just what Alan Wright and Edward Hanfling promise and exactly what they deliver. It’s an impressive thing to do as any art writer who has clung to inflated biography like someone going under for the third time will agree. Wright and Hanfling fearlessly chuck the comfort of the biographical away in the first few pages.

“The ‘facts’ of Mrkusich’s life are harder to come by. Mercifully, he does not encourage the spectator to ‘read’ his art in relationship to his personal biography.”

And, quoting Mrkusich himself, “A painting shows the facts of its own particular condition.”

Well, yes, that’s true, but for 113 pages? So far we’ve only dipped into Mrkusich: the art of transformation but even on that brief encounter it is fascinating. It brings in enough art history for Mrkusich to mix it in principle with peers like Guston, Poons and Mangold and, while biography may not be significant to Mrkusich, the book traces the story of New Zealand’s cultural swing from the UK to the US as clearly as a book devoted to the topic. And then there is a terrific selection of colour plates.

Inspired by the Wright/Hanfling achievement we talked about Milan’s paintings for an hour or so. Then we remembered the time the secretary at the Dowse addressed an envelope to Mr. Kusich.

And ruined everything.