Five Years

16-30 JUNE 2018

Artist: Yonel Watene Title: Llaves a Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead Yves (telekinetic Skype) Year created: 2017 Medium: HD video, sound colour, 7 minutes 17 seconds, edition of 3 + 2 AP Provenance: Filmed in Pluma Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Mexico, on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) November 1, 2017 Exhibition: Five Years, PAULNACHE, Gisborne, 16-30 June 2018 See, /

Five Years

This show, Five Years, is named after a David Bowie song, also called Five Years. It’s all to do with closing the curtains on the last five years and ushering in the next. It’s a cycle, a beginning and an end. Saying goodbye is the hardest thing to do, but everything must come to an end. Everything. That’s life. That’s Five Years.

Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

It took me five years to complete the photography work in this exhibition. Everything started in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala in 2013, when I took some photographs with a cheap 35mm point and shoot camera. I took these photos well before my first serious painting show, back in 2014. Over the next five years I did a lot of painting shows and I forgot about these photos. I forgot about where this all started.

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
I saw boys, toys electric irons and T.V.'s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people I never thought I'd need so many people

Between 2014-2017 I focused mainly on painting. I did about three meaningful painting shows in that time. I started taking photos again in 2016 (very casually may I add). I needed some photos for my first printed publication called ‘RAVEY’. This project brought my attention back to photography. I was living in Dunedin and running my own gallery. I used an old Yashica SLR camera my mom had given me. It produced beautiful photographs. I used it to take my Dunedin-based Photographic Portfolios, and a few rolls during my first trip to Mexico (in late 2016). It was made of plastic, so it eventually broke. That made me sad.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn't a-pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that

I went on my second trip to Mexico in September 2017. I did an artist-in-residency at Casa Lu in Mexico City, where I also had a solo exhibition I called ‘rugby ball’. My partner, Roberta Francis, is the Director of a charity called The Lucy Foundation (named after her prosthetic leg. She called it Lucy Leg as a kid). They help disabled people and are based in Pluma Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Mexico. We went there after my residency to stay with friends. It’s a mountainous village where they grow coffee. The Lucy Foundation work with disabled people and coffee. Every day I would stroll around Pluma and take photos. They later became my Pluma Hidalgo and Las Margaritas Portfolios, as seen here in Five Years. That was the special moment when I learnt to see what was right in front of me, and I’m grateful for that lesson. That was when I decided I wanted to take photography seriously. Without that moment we wouldn’t have Five Years.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milkshakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don't think
You knew you were in this song
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back ther

In Five Years I exhibit my first photographic series, taken in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala (2013); work from my latest photographic series, taken in Pluma Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Mexico (2017); and one large ‘water’ photograph. There is water everywhere in these photos, because water is life and without it there is death. Land needs water, or else it becomes a desert (and we don’t want that). These photos make-up for my lack of landscape paintings. Landscape painting is the greatest painting genre ve. It isn’t very ‘cool’, it hardly sells, it is popular with amateurs and the elderly, but it never seems to go away. It survives and I respect that. I always wanted to do more landscape paintings, but now I never have to do another one ever again - these are far better than any landscape I could paint. They’re my perfect landscape paintings - agua, whenua, life and death. It’s all we need. It’s all we really have ... for now.

Your face, your race, the way that you talk I kiss you, you're beautiful, I want you to walk We've got five years ...

Over the last five years I’ve had about ten solo exhibitions. I have shown paintings, installation and sculpture, but I had never shown a photo up until 2018. People have come to know me as a painter. Five years ago, everything started with some photos, so it’s fitting for this to end the way it started. Before I can call myself a painter or a photographer, I would like to call myself an artist. As an artist I make photographs, paintings, videos and sculpture. I plan on adding to this list of things I make. To me, that’s what being an artist is about. It’s about that and cycles.


I have made a lot of paintings over the last five years - figures, self portraits, still lifes, cats, dogs, ethereal jesters and fruit bowls. Every single painting has something representational in it - something that represents something in real life. Even my more abstract paintings have a little something in it - maybe a duck smoking a ciggie, or a tree. Up until January 2018, I had never done a fully abstract painting. Not because I don’t like abstract painting, I actually love abstract painting. I didn’t do abstract paintings because I couldn’t do one worth saving or showing, or even owning. I tried. I destroyed them all. There is so much abstract painting in Aotearoa right now, and I wanted to do something different - something on a different scale, in a different style and with a different process. These new denim paintings, which I’ve named my Wild Style paintings, are just that. They’re something worth sharing. I don’t use canvas, or a brush, or even paint. I don’t even make them in a studio. I make them on the lawn and wash them on a clothesline with a garden hose. For the most part they are only one colour - or, in other words, a tonal variation of the original denim colour. They represent five years worth of experimenting with paint. The results are paintings made without paint. That in itself is worth sharing. It took five years to get to this point.

We've got five years, WHAT A SURPRISE
We've got five years, MY BRAIN HURTS A LOT

Five years worth of photos, five years to make an abstract painting, and five years to finally release my first video work, titled ‘laves a Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead Yves (telekinetic Skype)’. That’s all I’ll say about that right now. This show presents work and ideas five years in the making. The younger ideas show us of things to come, some older ones will guide us through uncertain time, and others will die to live another day, maybe to never return. It’s the beginning and the end of a continuous cycle we call life. What you see here is a part of the plan, and if it isn’t here ... then it isn’t. It’s hard to move on - what’s worse is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Right here, right now, that isn’t happening. Change is a happening.

[Italic text = lyrics of Five Years by David Bowie]



Yonel Watene as born 1989 in Auckland, New Zealand, of Māori (Ngati Maru (Hauraki)) and Greek descent. He is currently based in Hamilton, New Zealand. Throughout his life he has also lived between Auckland, Dunedin, Whangerei, Sydney, and Melbourne. He studied fine arts, and later economics, at Auckland University of Technology, graduating in 2010. Watene works across a range of mediums and is primarily known for his paintings. He also works in photography, sculpture and installation. Prior to 2016 his practice was restricted to painting (usually focusing on one series at a time). Since 2016, by working in a variety of new media that grew to include photography and object-making, Watene has created a diverse oeuvre that, while being inherently complex, is strategically invested in modern cultures, art historic traditions and autobiographic material, all of which are important to the artist. His investment into cultural commodities helps consolidate a diverse visual vocabulary that is equally prolific as it is strategic. His one 'loose' blanket rule is that he typically works in series, in either one or more mediums at a time. This simple guideline, where he becomes absolutely fixated on one or two objectives at a time, helps create coherence and structure out of a complex visual language that spans multiple mediums, methodologies, narratives and idealogic strategies. He is currently working on his abbreviated paintings (born from the experimental painting TKP), ild Style paintings and his photographic practice.

Watene has artwork in the Wallace Arts Trust Collection, Hocken Collection, Jan Warburton Trust, and various private collections in Aotearoa ew Zealand, Spain, USA, Mexico, Australia, China and England. Recent and upcoming exhibitions include: Watene Ah Um, Firstdraft, Sydney, Australia [forthcoming August 2018] (solo); How to say something in fewer words: Object without Object, play_station, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand [forthcoming June 2018] (group); For a moment, maybe six weeks or so, no one knew how to make a painting, Wallace Gallery, Morrinsville, Aotearoa New Zealand, ft. Olga Krause (performance), April 2018 (solo); he Spirit, PAULNACHE, Gisborne, Aotearoa New Zealand, December 2017 (solo); rugby ball, Casa Lu, Mexico City, Mexico, October 2017 (solo); Anything Could Happen, Yu Gallery, Yu Yuan Garden, Shanghai, China, September 2017 (group).