Thursday, September 08, 2005

Cleavin: Theatres of War

From an upcoming book* on New Zealand printermaker Barry Cleavin:


Cleavin: Theatres of War (2004).
Printed paper sculptures. Collection of the artist.

Notes: At first glance these works might recall children's pop-up books or the juvenile cut-out toy theatres of Pollocks of London originating in Victorian times and referred to by R.L. Stevenson in 'Memories and Portraits', chapter xiii. A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured. These inexpensive paper cut-outs reproduced famous and favourite writings and could be coloured in and cut-out by children who could then act out the various stories and dramas.

In Cleavin's cut-out theatres strange dramas are played out. In these pictorial-cum-moral peep shows modern and archaic elements, in various scales, are brought into dramatic collision. Such compositions reject established rules of representation (including perspective) developed since the Renaissance and deliberately employ anachronistic imagery and scale reminiscent of medieval and primitive painters (who varied the size of their figures according to their importance). Cleavin uses such anachronisms to unsettle expectations and raise questions about the actions and relations dramatised. The concept behind them, their composition and titles, indicate that Cleavin considers continual acts of war and aggression unjustifiable and here invites audiences to look to the causes of such persistent patterns.

The 'Theatres of War' (2004), together with work by Nigel Buxton, Ralph Hotere, Marian Maguire, John Pule and John Reynolds, were part of an anti-war exhibition held at Papergraphica in Christchurch. This show, in many respects, repeated the concerns addressed by Cleavin and others in an exhibition titled, 'Artists for Peace' (1984), at The Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch.



Cleavin: Theatres of War (2004).
Printed paper sculptures. Collection of the artist.

Presented in the language of children's pop-up picture books or Benjamin Pollock's cut-out theatres, the casts of Cleavin's 'Theatres' include skeletal and ecorche figures, soldiers and arms, dinosaurs and popular cartoon figures.[6] These worlds of mixed visual events challenge not only warring powers, but also their analogues, the 'official' media and their versions of the various conflicts so often culpable of lionising war. These 'Theatres' also challenge us, an audience capable of participations of a different kind from those dramatised. Irrespective of the surreal pictorial idiom, these theatres of war images clearly relate to the Disasters of War' series by Callot and Goya, or the 'dumb shows' and stages of cruelty by Hogarth. They ask us if we assent to the events visualised.
* Meditations on a Magpie: the Work of Barry Cleavin, Printmaker, by Dr. Cassandra Fusco, a freelance writer from Christchurch, New Zealand; publisher will be the University of Canterbury's Canterbury Press