Island Mentality

Richard Killeen, Artist

This is one of the drawings in our collection. It was made in 1981. The place where it was made is unknown.
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Object Detail

Image: 760 x 560mm
watercolour on paper
The many ‘stories’ suggested in the paintings of Richard Killeen could amount to numerous volumes, such is the magnitude his major retrospective showing at the Sarjeant Gallery over the summer months. Stories we tell ourselves presents 67 works which span the entirety of Killeen’s career, from his realist works of the 60’s to his grids and the ‘cut outs’ for which he is famed.
His ‘paintings’ from the last 20 years are usually done on aluminium cut outs. They challenge commonly held views of what constitutes a painting by eschewing narrative flow, considered composition and most obviously abandoning the frame. Rather, single cut out images or shapes are collected, then manipulated by the artist, often with the assistance of computer programmes.
The images make reference to countless cultures, literatures, hieroglyphics, symbols, spaces and temperaments. The shapes and silhouettes, despite their appropriation from real life, can verge on the abstract or merge into fantastical familiarity. Moreover references are stripped of prior context, reduced, isolated and then reconfigured by Killeen alongside their titles.
Killeen’s works are challenging politically, historically and visually. They suggest fragments of the world, grouped in what seems illogical clusters. Titles can be a subterfuge. They sometimes appear unrelated to the pictorial staccatos. Born in New Zealand - For Samuel bears no obvious identification to New Zealand, or Samuel, the artists’ son. The only hint of junction lies in the representation of a lonely pukeko.
Don’t be alarmed! because everywhere there is reason. The reason belongs to you - the viewer. Though hung in an unspecified order, their neighbours not dictated by the artist, the cut outs depend on the person hanging them, and then the audience. Through this unorthodox method of installation paintings are re-modified at each venue and by their inherent non-hierarchical virtue, every hanging is the ‘correct’ one. As such, the cut outs resist a single reading, highlighting Killeen’s ‘feminist’ explorations against the exclusive voice of hierarchical power.
Involving himself as a political artist, Killeen’s works, or moreover his titles, explicitly reference themes of bi-culturalism, feminism, environmentalism as well as his own position as an artist in New Zealand. In many instances, Killeen’s work is therefore unashamedly political, epitomised in the titles Time to change male institutionalised war and Pawns and Tools and the Politics of Difference. Killeen comments, ‘Our survival is beginning to depend upon our ability to move away from this model [a male-dominated, patriarchal system] towards a greater pluralism, power sharing and acknowledgement that we are part of this environment rather than its dominator.’
While at art school Killeen resisted parochial themes of the land and nationalistic fervour. With Colin McCahon as his tutor the direction was not obvious. As if an insolent adolescent Killeen painted the taciturn suburbia, the landscape relegated to a marginal status. In Bulldozer, the landscape is literally being shifted aside for the housing developments of our urban landscapes. The ideal New Zealand becomes distant and dislodged. In works such as Woman dancing in blue, our traditional national identity is re-framed by a suburban lounge window, a lamp, a green sofa or a despondent dancing lady. The landscape is never too far away, but it is no longer the focus, particularly when the interior blinds are pulled shut. However, it is almost troubling that the inexpressive inhabitants of these quotidian scenes are not the focus either. Perhaps a clue is found inscribed in one of Killeen’s notebooks, ‘in the eyes of the universe everything is the same – equal.’
Be they props or people, cultures or codes, his œuvre continues to assert the importance of ‘everything’. And with works like Vegetable Theology comprising 322 pieces, Killeen’s Stories we tell ourselves delivers you, the author, a chance to recount some exquisite tales.
- from text for 'Stories we tell ourselves: The Paintings of Richard Killeen, December 22, 1999 - March 19, 2000'
Credit Line
Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Gift of the artist, 1982.
Collection Type
Permanent collection
Acquisition Date
22 Sep 1982



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