All Bets are Off
November 17 - December 19, 2009
There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen.
I would like some day to trap a moment of life in its full violence, its full beauty.
That would be the ultimate painting.
Apollinaire was first to notice the influence of mass media advertising on early modernist aesthetics. Consumer culture has its own poetry – billboards and hoardings, loose leaf flyers, handbills and catalogues – junk mail in the agency of advertising. Metropolitan man has a fever for consumption. He feeds his fever to a pitch until finally the market consumes him. Competing for signage and space in the urban metropolis, the mass media is a fitting metaphor for the modern mind.
Pete Wheeler’s paintings are in some ways the product of the urban environment, distinguished from those of his contemporaries by a grungy street aesthetic, expressionist style and frequently controversial imagery. Returning to Christchurch after a year’s residence in Berlin, he brings his practice back home with a few surprises.
With All Bets are Off, Wheeler leaves the mass media out, returning to the medium best suited to the modernist painter’s practice. The confrontational texts and politics that characterise his earlier output have vanished from the latest work, and the subject matter has changed markedly. Yet something still remains of the urban aesthetic mentioned above: these works resemble weathered billboards both in scale and colouration. The scratched, scumbled, smudged and paint-smattered surfaces are awash with glazes of varying consistency. Layers of paint warp their original supports, distorting the underlying content and giving ground to the shifting properties of pigment and light beneath the free application of the medium. Thin washes of paint colonise canvas like the sprawl of city living.
Circling the air in venues before descending on their carrion prey, vultures are victims of consumer culture and its quest for cleanliness. These birds feast on leftovers, ensuring that no body is wasted in the cycle of living and dying; their survival depends upon what is unfit for the consumption of other animals. Wheeler’s cast of wild animals also includes the eagle, leopard, baboon, bison and hyena. Leaping straight from the pages of National Geographic or Life magazines, they bear suggestions of power, aggression and violence in their beaks or between their teeth, lending weight to Francis Bacon’s belief that life and art are ultimately quintessential expressions of violence.
List of Works
All paintings are oil on canvas, from 2009
The artist would like to acknowledge the untiring support of Jay James and Robin Neate
in realising this body of work.