Being an art critic, like smoking, is a slow form of suicide. Maybe it’s more like being a cop in Mexico – they give you a uniform and a gun, but you have to sort your wages out for yourself. Anyway, Saturday night, unable to face another morrow of Haricots cuite a la boîte (I say it in bogus menu French because it’s less depressing that way) I rifled around in my couch cushions and various jacket pockets and managed to gather together a small jingling trove of shrapnel.
Sunday morning I took My Precious to Vic’s Café to invest in a coffee, muffin and Sunday Star Times with which to succour myself with amid the ruins of Carlton Corner. Unfortunately, I happened to read that John Reynolds is now designing the packaging for a brand of toilet cleaner
Several latté dowsed customers and a Heimlich manoeuvre later I paused to consider this. Yes, yes, I know I shiv Mesire Reynolds in the ribs rather frequently, that is because I care. Reynolds was once one of New Zealand’s most interesting artists, with a perky line, a strong and unique vocabulary of motifs (the piles of stones, the dotted line clouds, the signposts) and sharply witty compositions. Then somewhere around the Millennium he decided that being an important artist wasn’t enough and that’s he’d rather be a celebrity. The more frequently you saw him mugging for the cameras, the more the quality of his work dropped, until you see the bloated, conceptually void fluff and overhyped doodles you see today.
Concurrent with that were the very strange deals he began making with corporate interests. Now I don’t normally have a problem with that per se – artists deserve all the money they can earn (so they can spend some of it commissioning catalogue essays and wall texts from starving art writers. No, really – black children in Africa send me a dollar a day). However this needs to be done judiciously. Purpose specific limited edition art on wine labels, designer t-shirts and certain types of house furniture don’t erode the nature of the art or the aesthetic stock of the artist, but you have to wonder about how the aesthetic value of a painting hanging in a gallery is going to hold up when the same lines also grace a bottle in the loo. The reality is that Reynolds is taking the bread from some designer’s mouth for the value of his name alone, not his actual ability.
John, get back to the studio. You are turning into a clown.