Christ cross

From MTG: Cross becomes the artist’s mark

Committed, circa 1980 by Allen Maddox. Collection of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi. Photo / Provided

The quixotic painter Allen Maddox has a reputation plagued with myths and speculation, stories that are probably best not told in this column – google them if you must.

Suffice it to say, Maddox lived with schizophrenia, battling with it throughout his life with sometimes catastrophic effects.

The reason I am focusing on him in this column is that he is the subject of a very interesting exhibition which opened last night in Napier at the Ahuriri Contemporary gallery.

Maddox is also beautifully represented in the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection, as evidenced by this fine abstract painting, Clerk.

Maddox’s family moved to Hawke’s Bay from Liverpool in 1963 when he was 15. After the home of Britain’s Merseybeat music scene and a bustling city with new (albeit violent and depressingly industrialized) immigrant cultures, Hawke’s Bay must have been a sobering environment for a wide-boy Scouser.

After high school, Maddox lived in Ōtautahi, Pōneke, and Tāmaki Makaurau for periods of his life, but lived here in Hawke’s Bay for most of it, until his death in 2000.

Maddox is known as one of New Zealand’s finest representatives of Abstract Expressionism.

Combining geometry and gesture, Maddox has used the grid structure and cross patterns for over 25 years.

The story goes that in a moment of frustration, Maddox lashed out at a failed painting he was working on, marking it with an X. The cross must have had a kind of anarchic appeal and from that point on, Maddox repeatedly used crosses in boxes, you could say adopt the “X” as his signature motif.

As a cultural signifier, the cross is rich; X meaning no, a mathematical signifier, an unschooled signature, marking an error, don’t drink that, x marks the place, as a symbol of Christ and so on.

However, Maddox’s interest was in the structure and geometry of the cross in a box and the balance its gestural expression gave it.

The X became an endgame for Maddox, who explored it as a proposition through three decades of painting practice.

Beginning in the 1970s and reaching a chaotic (likely inebriated) crescendo in the 1980s and 90s, the works became increasingly unruly, order giving way to an amplified expressive quality seen through gestures. more dynamic.

Last night an Abstract (Here Is The Thing) exhibition opened at Richard Boyd Dunlop’s Ahuriri Contemporary gallery. The exhibition brings together contemporary artists from across the country to examine whether the context of Maddox’s work is relevant to contemporary abstraction today.

The show is hosted by one of Aotearoa’s most established and successful artists, another who has chosen to make Te Matau-a-Māui Hawke’s Bay his home, Peter Madden.

Madden presents previously unseen works from the Maddox estate and has brought together a group of abstract artists from Aotearoa around these works. Anoushka Akel, Phillipa Blair, James Cousins, Richard Bryant, Cat Fooks, Sarah Louise Keber, Patrick Lundberg and Jamie Te Heuheu are widely recognized.

Toni MacKinnon is an art curator at MTG