Robyn Sassen

Pretty pictures, shallow ponds


EASY on the eye? Glowing in the Night, a 2018 work in acrylic on canvas by Neill Wright. Photograph courtesy Everard Read Gallery.

THERE’S SOMETHING INTRINSICALLY engaging and satisfying about saturated colours painted with a flat sense of accuracy, but there’s also something deadening about this approach to art-making. The more you look at the paintings in acrylic on canvas by Neill Wright in his show at the Everard Read Gallery, the more your sense of ‘wow’ turns into a yawn.

The problem, it seems, has to do with the lack of tonal contrast in these works which places every element of the paintings onto the same plane, and gives it the same emphasis. What happens is they become easy to look at, so easy, in fact that you find yourself not looking, but glossing blurredly over them, instead. Is this art? Or is this the kind of decoration you might anticipate in a doctor’s waiting room rather than any space that takes art at more than just face value.

The exhibition is not only painterly – there are some retro-feeling works on wood reflecting giant bottle tops and offering cynical reflections on commercial advertising miens and gestures. Think the Pop Artists of the 1950s in America and their slick take on commercialism and comics and you might understand what Wright is getting at here.

When you reach his bronze works, those that represent bitten-into giant apples in a manner that completely overrides the intrinsic qualities of the medium, you might recall the 1970s fad which saw apple cores of highly burnished wood as a hip ornament. But when the flesh of said apple is lemon yellow and its skin is bright blue, and as a work it is called Invoking the Fever Dream, you know that something different is at play here. It’s not completely clear what, however.

Arguably, the lowest point in this exhibition is an installation, which you will discover as you amble through the several rooms which contain this show. It’s a faux water pond kind of situation, where there are large drops of pink and orange suspended from the roof, industrial faux grass on sheets of shiny black acrylic plastic and a ‘do not touch’ sign that completes this work. This element feels so obnoxiously precious and poorly thought through in the context of this show, that it’s better left alone.

While the work may be easily sellable – though at over R30 000 a pop for most of the acrylic pieces, it feels a tad costly – there’s a question in this show which needs to be posed to the decision makers behind it. Wright is clearly an artist invested in a very particular approach to his work. Does it fit an understanding of the kind of great art that this gallery is known for, or is this about the shiny things that attract people and get them to pay money?

  • Blizzard Head by Neill Wright is at Everard Read Gallery, Rosebank, Johannesburg, until August 25. 011 788 4805.

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