Want to find out where the major tensions lie in the landscape of contemporary painting? Then find Rohan Wealleans and mark the spot—he’s never far from the fault-lines. A pakeha (white) painter who has invented his own Pacific tribe, a male artist who has recast themes and forms from the ’70s Women’s Art Movement, and a maker of aggressively physical objects who has shrewdly raided the ‘post-object’ practices of performance and conceptual artists, Wealleans takes histories and images previously considered incompatible or antagonistic and feeds them into his paintings with glee. ‘Feeds’ is the right word, too, because there’s an open-mouthed, full-bellied look to the things he makes. With their meaty sheen, sharp-toothed detailing and bulging polychrome openings, the paintings are literally hungry for our attention. Wealleans evolved the basic look back in art school, when he began layering up boards with hundreds of coats of house paint and then took to this skin with a Stanley knife, revealing exquisitely layered undercolours—the glorious guts of painting. Lately he’s performed these anatomy lessons on forms that dangle hugely in open space, and the results are lumpy, space-invading rebukes to the many current abstract paintings that resemble screensavers or high-end sneaker designs. What complicates their weird allure is Wealleans’s practice of entangling the works in intricate fictions and back-stories, often involving ‘first contact’ with some alien culture or foreign realm. Eager to outflank expectations about what he ought to make, Wealleans has claimed the freedom to act up and act out—to paint from within the worldview of a cartoon character, an outsider, a beast, an extraterrestrial… In the process he has made painting—the most familiar of art forms—into something wonderfully alien.
Curator of Contemporary Art, Dunedin Public Art Gallery
(This text was written for the forthcoming NZO7—NEW ZEALAND AT LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA PROJECT. For more information about this project, please contact Brian Butler at [email protected])
Rohan Wealleans (b. 1977) produced the works for Tatunka during a twelve-month residency as part of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship at Otago University. Tatunka, Wealleans’s first solo museum exhibition, was exhibited at Dunedin Public Art Gallery in late 2006. A catalogue of the exhibition with long essays by Justin Paton and Linda Tyler is forth-coming. Wealleans was the winner of the 15th Annual Wallace Art Award in Auckland in 2006 and the Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Award in 2002. His work is held by Auckland Art Gallery, Te Papa Tongarewa The Museum of New Zealand, Wellington and the Chartwell Collection as well as private collections in Australia and New Zealand. Wealleans is included in the forthcoming book NZO7 - NEW ZEALAND AT LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA PROJECT and a chapter on Wealleans’s work features in the prize-winning book by Justin Paton, How to look at a painting (2005). Tatunka is Rohan Wealleans’s first exhibition with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and his first exhibition in Australia.