Yonel Watene, The Spirit

1–29 DECEMBER 2017

PAULNACHE is excited to announce Yonel Watene’s first exhibition with the gallery, titled The Spirit. 

Building on strong themes realised in his latest exhibitions Mackie Boy (SAVOIE de LACY, Dunedin, 2017) and rugby ball (Casa Lu, Mexico City, 2017), where Watene explores autobiographic narratives, art historic traditions and modern cultures, The Spirit expands on these goals through investigating the ‘omnipresent’. 

In spirituality, God (or Gods) is present everywhere at the same time - Watene investigates this concept’s correlation with personal narration, historic traditions and culture, by relating this ‘omnipresent’ idea to experiences we take with us throughout  our lives. This includes beliefs, relationships, cultural affiliations, identity, influences and ideals (all of which are present with us at all times). Collectively these ‘impressions’ help define who we are, and in turn it helps to define humanity and societies. They indeed help define the artist, who identifies with: art historic traditions that range from Modernism (especially Dadaism) to contemporary painting canons such as Neo-Expressionism; and modern cultures and ideals associated with the Modernist consummate draftsman (a creative who explored multiple artistic fields) and musical improv’ pioneered by the bebop masters (most notably Charles Mingus). 

The Spirit paintings are a collection of contemporary artworks that attempt to personify this mystical concept through the depiction of an ethereal, unidentifiable ‘spirit’. The Spirit wears a cheeky smirk similar to Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. This smirk is ambiguous in that it can represent personal knowledge, cruel intentions or a heightened sense of humour, all depending on the viewer’s interpretations. The Spirits inherent diversity is comparable to the artist’s diverse narrative, or the diverse narrative of each and every human-being, art historic canon or civilisation throughout time. In this way it can either be a self-portrait or a portrait that represents the viewer, or a representation of something non-human all together. The diverse role of The Spirit adheres to the ‘omnipresent’ by representing an idea that can be everywhere at all times - all without being spiritual. It is also very generous in that the viewer defines The Spirits meaning - it’s meaning isn’t decided by the artist. In fact, it doesn’t need to be defined at all.

While The Spirit is the driving force behind the shows ideals, three other bodies of work converse with The Spirit installation to make a well-rounded conversation. F.T.K.P. (recently featured in The 26th Wallace Awards) is a fitting addition to the exhibition, in that it represents the artists youth and general youth culture. The artwork references popular music during the 2000’s (namely Radiohead) and tagging (a popular anti-social hobby for teens during the 2000’s) by combining a popular Radiohead song (Karma Police) and a popular tag (Fuck The Police). The combination of these two references can relate to youth culture, or it can be seen as defiant stance on karma (or fate), where the artist defies a power usually beyond our control. Another prominent feature is the inclusion of Watene’s Whanak series, which includes a group of portraits on cardboard boxes. Included in this series are portraits of the artist mother, his late father Max, his partner Roberta, a number of his childhood friends, and a few of his idols, which include the renowned sculpture Peter Nicholls and the potter Jim Cooper. Whanak explores whanau, friendship and companionship, which are the cornerstone to human relations. The final addition includes works recently featured at Casa Lu Gallery, Mexico City, which were made during the artist’s first artist residency between September and October 2017. These paintings work similar to a book, in that it provides a progressive narrative that explores different subjects about humanity, whenua (the land) and folk art in Mexico.

Yonel Watene (b. 1989) is of Māori (Ngati Maru (Hauraki)) and Greek descent. He was recently based in Dunedin, New Zealand, and is currently based in Hamilton, New Zealand. Throughout his life he has lived between Auckland, Whangerei, Sydney, and Melbourne. He studied fine arts, and later economics, at Auckland University of Technology, graduating in 2010. He Founded SAVOIE de LACY, a small gallery and studio based in Ravensbourne, Dunedin, which operated from March 2016 to August 2017. Watene is a multidisciplinary artist primarily known for his paintings. He also works in photography, sculpture and installation. His diverse oeuvre is inspired by the consummate draftsman during the Modernist period, whose practice included numerous disciplines (namely painting, printmaking and sculpture). He recently undertook an artist-in-residency program at Casa Lu, Mexico City, Mexico. Watene’s recent exhibitions include; Watene Ah Um, Firstdraft, Sydney, Australia [forthcoming; August 2018] (solo); rugby ball, Casa Lu, Mexico City, Mexico, accompanied by The Chronicles of T-Pan: A Madman with the Pill II: Nimzo y Bogo (e-publication) (solo); Mackie Boy, SAVOIE de LACY, offsite at Dunedin Community Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand, accompanied by The Sun, Moon and Stars (publication) (solo); Anything Could Happen, Yu Gallery, Yu Yuan Garden, Shanghai, China (group); Centro de Tlalpan, Casa Lu, Mexico City, Mexico [organiser only], accompanied by The Chronicles of T-Pan: A Madman with the Pill I: Starting 15 for E.C.B. (e-publication) (group); and 26th Wallace Awards, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland, New Zealand [forthcoming] (group). He has artwork in notable collections that include; Chartwell Collection, New Zealand; Hocken Collection, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand; Jan Warburton Trust, New Zealand; and private collections in New Zealand, Spain, USA, Mexico, Australia, China and England.

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