NON RIEN: CE N'EST PAS UNE PEINTURE

Henry Symonds has been living and working in New Zealand for over 20 years as an artist and educator. The South African accent has softened, he wears more black than he used to, but the colour breaks out in African scarfs and flamboyant shoes (the most recent a wonderful pair of bright blue patent leather dress shoes from Amsterdam). He is also a remarkable creator of spaces and surfaces - studio, home, garden and art work – furnishing them with textiles, artefacts, plants and books. The domestic subject matter of this work encourages conflation of the art and the artist in a way that is arguably no longer fashionable. And yet this seemingly anachronistic reading makes for a rewarding, warm and human experience of these paintings.

Three geographically and stylistically eclectic pieces of writing about Symonds’ work are juxtaposed here in an echo of the layers, spaces, objects and ideas in the paintings: Johnson’s rich explication of Symonds’ conversation with Matisse; Schmidt’s tightly woven academic identification of his creation of frame, fragment, fissure and facture; and Carter’s reflections born of a longstanding friendship and a deep personal relationship with Symonds’ work. Johnson hails from Rhode Island home of Symonds’ alma mater RISDi. Schmidt, like Symonds, is an ex-pat South African now living in New Zealand. Carter resides in Amsterdam, one of the colonial parents of South Africa and gateway to the west of many exotic treasures now deeply and contentiously embedded in western art and culture including Symonds’ own.
Stacks Image 830
The writing offers scholarly and intimate access, astute formal analysis and engaging interpretations from different vantage points and through different approaches. All directly or indirectly refer to and reflect Symonds’ exploration from the margins; his post-postmodern practice and his post-postcolonial life. These are like Symonds’ “not nothing” as mentioned by Carter, the spaces between, the acts, events and states that defy positive definition, negative space, a window. The catalogue operates in the liminal space between work and viewer and perhaps context and art work. It is a bridge upon which mention is made of the “non-West”, Derrida, and loaded objects and decoration; contained, evoked, revealed and veiled in these extraordinarily sophisticated paintings.

In Symonds’ work, space, objects, ideas and responses are distilled into remarkable surfaces, intricate and varied skins of paint made of gesture and brushstroke. All the depth is for surface’s sake. After their making, the surfaces are for projection and reflection (artist’s and viewers’), the consideration of the painting, the spaces in which they were made, and the life that led to their making.

Jacquie Phipps / Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design / Auckland, New Zealand