The Floating World

Mar 28 - Apr 22, 2017

Chris Heaphy

Front gallery - installation view

Front gallery - installation view

Front gallery - installation view

There is a terrific lightness and poise to Chris Heaphy's new show, which is what you'd expect perhaps from its title The Floating World. Black silhouetted shapes and figures stand lightly, sometimes astride animals, sometimes on boxes or ladders, or sometimes simply positioned along the bottom of a painting - all intently looking the same way (go west young man!) with the quiet solemnity of a classical frieze.

Hata Waits    Phar Lap Waits

Hata, the stag waits. Phar Lap waits. But for what and whom do they (and their retinues) await? T'is an elusive narrative populated by a rich cast of characters. Heaphy's visual lexicon covers the past and present. It references colonial and post-colonial Maori and Pakeha, and increasingly Asia. Everything from his favoured card symbols and imagery from the prophets Te Kooti, Rua Kenana and Ratana, to the myriad birds and plants of Aotearoa, and the tools of everyday, such as hats, pipes, walking sticks, crutches and flags. Animal, vegetable or mineral - it might be present - for this is the floating world, a site full of suggestion and a cornucopia wonderfully imagined.

Geisha Chashitsu

The Floating World also described the realm of the Japanese geisha. Installed low in the back gallery, a geiko (or geisha from Kyoto) is flanked by small canvases composed around the notion of a koma, a Japanese tearoom four-and-a-half tatami mats in size. Geiko Chashitsu is a set of paintings best seen from or seated on the floor.

The title work of the show is bigger. At two metres square it sounds no giant, but it is a painting full of the joy of Heaphy's expanding visual vocabulary, a work I'm sure within which he left part of his DNA just to get it completed here in time. It is significant and majestic. Mandala-like, it has at its centre the bold red circle of the Japanese flag. From this heart, heads and birds (whio and kotuku) take our eye to a ring of black, prancing, bushy tailed horses. Generous white (negative) space around these lends the painting wonderful bounce - a visual syncopation full of rhythm and movement. Gray profiles of Maori heads in discs almost ceramic blue, lead to four comparatively large rondels of gold, each featuring a gnarly plum tree in blossom. Never seen the like of this before in a Heaphy. These Asian medallions are flanked by black profiles of a female head, with a male profile inset in gold and top hat. The dance of form and pattern is generous and almost overwhelming in its suggestion and pollination of cultures across time. Yet there is calm, mysterious stillness, and a beautiful dignity - all befitting the geisha incarnate, the inhabitants of 'the floating world'.

The Floating World - detail
detail - The Floating World


Selected works

Please hover over image to see title

The Floating World

Amazing Day

Hata Waits

Phar Lap Waits


Ibis Waits    Matuku Hurepo Waits    Kotuku Waits


Geisha Chashitsu



List of works

The Floating World, 2017      acrylic on linen      2000 x 2000mm     
Amazing Day, 2016      acrylic on linen      900 x 1200mm     
Hata Waits, 2017      acrylic on linen      1200 x 1600mm     
Phar Lap Waits, 2017      acrylic on linen      1200 x 1600mm     
Ibis Waits, 2017      acrylic on linen      1000 x 600mm     
Matuku Hurepo Waits, 2017      acrylic on linen      1000 x 600mm     
Kotuku Waits, 2017      acrylic on linen      1000 x 600mm     
Geiko Chashitsu, 2017      4 works      acrylic on linen     
Whakairo, 2017      pumice      dimensions variable     


Chris Heaphy guides the hanging of The Floating World
Chris Heaphy guides the hanging of The Floating World