This exhibition brings together the work of Simon Kaan and Jon Tootill, two artists of Ngāi Tahu descent whose bicultural art-based research engages with the unique artistic ecology of Aotearoa.
Art’s agency within cultural revival is central to Simon Kaan’s understanding of his position as an artist. Kaan possesses a refined visual language developed over decades, intrinsically tied to his sense of personal genealogy being of Ngāi Tahu and Chinese descent. His practice considers the implications of the intermingling of the Ngāi Tahu and Chinese elements of his heritage, through iconography and processes of making. In a practice that includes painting, printmaking and performance, Kaan is concerned with identity, and with the physical and metaphysical notions of space and time.
Kaan’s work presents a duality resultant of his complex consideration of cultural identity. Questions of compositions, repetition, the use of the vertical and horizontal, the notion of balance and harmony; all indicate Kaan’s concern with Chinese thought. Conversely, reflection on Ngāi Tahu cosmology is evident in the vital waka form; representing the importance of sea navigation and the cultural weight of whenua, the sense of belonging to and having responsibility for the land.
Jon Tootill’s work embodies European Abstraction and Modernism yet is equally engaged with the aesthetics of Kowhaiwhai or Koru forms. His interests as a contemporary artist are influenced by his Ngāi Tahu heritage. Compositions are methodically developed over time through substantial experimentation, until patterns begin to resonate harmoniously. The tools employed by Tootill move seamlessly between traditional mediums and digital imagery.
Describing drawing and painting for him as one and the same, his drafting process currently involves “scanning finished drawings into Photoshop or Illustrator to look at combinations of pattern and colour. Other times I draw them out and paint them in a smaller size than the final canvasses. The latter process seems to allow a more holistic thinking process.”
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