Martin Basher: Blackberry Schnapps

Martin Basher aligns painting and sculpture with the slick, ultra-bright aesthetics of commercial product and retail display. Seeking out contemporary expressions of utopia and the sublime, his work takes its colours from the sun-drenched imagery of exotic-holiday deals, alcohol advertising, and other commercial sources. His abstract stripe paintings recall the fluorescent lighting and display devices of store-front architecture. In his installations, paintings are offered, among other items, as consumer products, reliant for their meaning and value on the politics of consumption and taste. 

Blackberry Schnapps developed out of Basher’s 2010 residency at the McCahon House studio, Titirangi. The large banner that anchors the installation was once the humble dropcloth protecting the studio floor. It’s accretion of paint, dirt, footprints, and tape is the afterimage of months of work. Relocated onto the wall, the dropcloth becomes a monumental abstraction, nodding to the American modernist painting tradition, as well as to its local, provincial remakes (like the Northland Panels, which, according to legend, Colin McCahon knocked out in a single afternoon at Titirangi in 1958). 

Here, one of the paintings Basher started during his residency hangs on top of the dropcloth. Chrome rails, leather hides, shelving units, and other commercial goods spread out across the gallery floor, conflating showroom-décor aesthetics and the studio-based painting tradition. Alluding to the history of the painted backdrop as a promotional tool in department stores and trade shows, Blackberry Schnapps recasts the relationships between process and product, the handmade and the industrially produced, wall and floor, art and display. 

City Gallery Wellington, 19 April–3 August 2014