Matthew Couper, Thirty-Three, 3 July - 1 August 2009
Thirty~Three presents a series of paintings by Matthew Couper executed in 2009 at the age of 33, as a ‘rite of passage’. Each painting documents each year of the artist’s life, so the exhibition takes the viewer on Couper’s journey, from growing up in Hawkes Bay, to attending art school, travelling over- seas, teaching and painting, learning lessons, encountering misfortune and luck and exploring ideas of mortality, sex and religion. These personal experiences are combined with popular culture symbolism and familiar references, expressing at once both an individual and more universal story. Painted in a chronological narrative, the style of the work references the Spanish Colonial painting genre of the retablo. It also alludes to ex-votos—nineteenth century devotional paintings executed by village artisans. These were commissioned by a client in gratitude to a specific patron saint to acknowledge an incident or personal experience. Pictorially, a retablo usually depicts the saint in a generic landscape with symbols, attributes and text to help explain the devotion and the incident. Couper hybridizes this art form with his own contemporary art practice in turn reinforcing the potency of narrative painting as a multi-cultural vehicle for visual communication. The focal point of the exhibition is the eponymous installation resembling a makeshift altar for rebirth rituals. The number 33 is often related to Christ’s death and resurrection in Christian religion, but is also a prominent number associated with rebirth rituals throughout different cultures.