The Hanging Sky
08 December–02 March 201308 Dec–02 Mar 2013
Since the early 1990s Shane Cotton (Ngati Rangi, Ngati Hine, Te Uri Taniwha) has been one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed painters. His works of the 1990s, with their sepia-toned landscapes and intricate inscriptions, played a pivotal part in that decade’s debates about place, belonging, and bicultural identity. In the mid 2000s, however, Cotton headed in a spectacular and unexpected new direction—skywards. Employing a sombre new palette of blue and black, he painted the first in what would become a major series of skyscapes—vast, nocturnal spaces where strange birds speed and plummet. From these spare and vertiginous beginnings, Cotton’s skyscapes have become, across the last half-decade, increasingly complex and provocative—incorporating ragged skywriting and the ghostly features of upoko tuhituhi or ‘marked heads’. Far from defusing these words and images, Cotton’s paintings keep them charged and alive, insisting that the issues they raise must be reckoned with here and now. Above all, his recent works insist that painting itself is a space of exploration and possibility—a place of leaps, freefalls and charged collisions between different orders of imagery. The Hanging Sky brings together highlights from the past half-decade alongside a body of new work made especially for the exhibition, including one vast new mural-scale painting, a spectacular suite of ‘target’ prints, and a line-up of painted baseball bats that suggest both trophies and weapons. The Hanging Sky is curated by Justin Paton and organised by Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu in association with the IMA.