All Bets are Off

November 17 - December 19, 2009

Pete Wheeler



We Need You To Be You

There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen.
Job 28:7

I would like some day to trap a moment of life in its full violence, its full beauty.
That would be the ultimate painting.

Francis Bacon

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.

To ReturnWith 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.
Cliches don't work hereThe subjects of these paintings are flesh and blood, but in case you thought you were in for documentary - wild, everyday animal savagery in a natural environment - Wheeler sets the scene in spotlight, not the light of nature. Dark grounds resembling yesterday's record covers surround tondo interiors, framing his subjects like pets peeping out of keyholes or a hunter's prey caught in your scope.  They may be ensigns - icons of empire, evolution, animal activism - or simply the gauge for an image-hungry public to line up their next kill. There is a staginess about these animals that almost renders them self-conscious. The artist offers us ringside seats to a theatre of cruelty brought in from the wild.

Velvet ElvisDustCircling 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.

Jeremy Marshall

Selected works

Details of works in the order they appear above...
To Return         3200 x 2700mm            
Cliches don't work here         3200 x 2700mm          
Velvet Elvis         2700 x 2200mm           
Dust         2700 x 2200mm           
"We need you to be you"         2130 x 3960mm           
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.
artist in studio