Friday, January 24, 2014

Hitting the wall

The loss of John and Lynda Matthews's home and art collection is a sad marker for the art world as well as a personal tragedy. The plan was for the collection to be eventually gifted to the Govett-Brewster although knowing John Mathews the Gallery will probably still get to benefit as it's hard to imagine him not starting over.

There have been a number of art collections lost to fire in New Zealand with the most prominent to our knowledge the loss of John Weeks’s work in the Elam fire of 1949, the terrible fire that consumed Greer Twiss’s home early in 1985 and a courier truck fire in 2007.

In the case of the Mathews fire we want to speak to one great painting that has been lost, Tony Fomison’s 1972 work An institutional wall painting called “Three’s a crowd”. We purchased it from the Bett Duncan Studio Gallery in Cuba Street when it was first exhibited and owned it for many years before putting it up for auction where John purchased it.

It was a hard-won image as Fomison’s photographic record of its progress relates. The wall was a late addition and at least three versions of the faces were trialed before Fomison settled on those based on photographs by Eugene Smith, David Bailey and David Lester. Like many of Tony Fomison’s works of the time it was painted on rough woven jute, probably an old sack, with a simple studio frame of sun-bleached secondhand timber. There was so much of Tony’s iconography piled into that one work, the eccentric canvas shape, extreme compositional perspective, modeled faces looming out of darkness, images lifted from other artists and, of course, his spindly signature and dating along the bottom of the image.

Many people who saw this painting in our home found it disturbing but we thought it was great, and so did John Matthews.