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Remain medicated

Never mind your tortured artist driven by existential angst. Evan Woodruffe’s wall of big abstract tiles on show now at the Paul Nache Gallery is all about exuberance and joy; a panacea for the weltschmerz. The installation that takes up most of a whole wall at the gallery is made up of panels. Some find accidental links with their neighbour while others are connected only by the wormholes of colour straight from the tube. The restless panorama is alive with biomorphic balloons, insecty lines, dot colonies and cartoonish excitability.

“This work is a bit like a Rubik cube,” says Woodruffe.

“We could disassemble these multipart works and rearrange them in combination with single panels and come up with an entirely new work.”

If there is a defining motif in the background it is in the small three-dimensional piece, Remain Medicated, whose brightly decorated red pills spill from a prescription bottle.

“Until science finds a cure for our condition, remain medicated,” is the message. It’s a joke, of course; the artist is having a laugh. His work is hardly sober but it’s a million miles away from sedation.

Colour also spills from the panels that make up the wall of what a synaesthete might see as improvised music, and from the framed works hung on it (the wall of colour is, after all, a wall) and into the artist’s clothes. And back again. Woodruffe’s waistcoat is patterned with a print based on a section of the wall; his shirts and ties are multi-coloured.

It’s a two-way flow.

“When I wear out a shirt or it gets too much paint on it, it goes in here,” he says.

“The fabric is going into the painting and coming out of the painting so there’s a nice conversation going on there.”

Seen in real life — as opposed to on screen or on paper — the paintings have a tactility and texture some might feel tempted to lick.

Deep in the background is the influence of the pioneer of abstraction, Russian modernist Wassily Kandinsky, Spanish surrealist/abstract expressionist Joan Miro, and Japanese conceptual artist Yayoi Kusama best known for the fields of polka dots she calls “infinity nets”. Ultimately, Woodruffe’s complex, colourful paintings echo German philosopher and cultural critic Friedrich Nietzsche’s bon mot, “We have art lest we perish from the truth.”

Exuberant, celebratory art is not a matter of denial, of separation from reality, says the artist. Art can be an antidote to the crises we see in the media.

“It helps remind us humanity is also full of moments of joy, beauty, progress. It reminds us of these human qualities that will uplift us and that gives strength to go back and deal with crises. The immediate effect is like music.”

In fact, in an earlier life Woodruffe was a musician with a band called Melon Twister.

“The dynamics of music are something I put into my work.”

Also, dirt. Or at least earth he collects from various sites such as Kaiti Hill. Mixed with binder to make textured paint a little bit of Titirangi is rendered in discs in the wall.

“When I look at art it reminds me of the qualities of our human history,” says Woodruffe.

“That acts as a salve or a balm.”

EXUBERANCE: Artist Evan Woodruffe’s abstract works spill over with joyous, energetic colour. Picture by Thomas Teutenberg