Mind-blowingly complex and impossibly intricate images colonise the paintings in Chris Heaphy’s new exhibition Maukatere. Although each symbol could be interpreted in multifarious ways, the viewer is challenged to consider the sum of their parts in a rich array of colour and densely layered meaning. The eye oscillates between the elaborate imagery and the greater composition, and both in the act honing in and panning out, ever increasing images-within-images are revealed.
The endless silhouetted shapes appear to be at once vast, on a giant macro scale as if observing constellations in the night sky and at the same time as if peering down a microscope to reveal an otherwise invisible world of tiny molecular arrangements of matter, like DNA, bacteria or viruses. Heaphy is interested in identity and here he attempts to show us how things exist, multiply, fit and evolve together to be a part of the seemingly never ending mystery that life can be.
The interaction of images creates meaning. The many precise images collect, organise and arrange themselves to fit together, spreading across the canvas to be a part of a localised group and together be part of the whole composition.
In a sense, Heaphy’s symbols are like clues or signifiers that piece together his own identity while they also offer a more collective interpretation. The adoption and adaptation of symbols between cultures has been central to Heaphy’s practice and here as in the past Heaphy is drawing on Maori iconography. This is particularly evident in the new vignettes that feature here with references to carving and landscape painting.
In a new approach Heaphy has painted mini vistas within his otherwise flat symbols. They offer a new depth of perspective and act like portholes into another dimensions. The landscape subjects are ambiguous as, while they could be recognised as distinctly New Zealand Mountain ranges, they are painted in a style that recalls the tradition of landscape painting.
Among many and varied images mountains appear to emerge from out of a haze that hovers or floats in a dream like presence, provoking ideas of journey and memory. The exhibition title Maukatere or “Floating Mountain” also refers to the mountain of the same name, near Amberley in the South Island. The mountain holds particular resonance for Ngai Tahu Maori as the summit is believed to be the starting point for departing souls on the journey to the afterlife. This is Heaphy’s second solo exhibition with Gow Langsford; the first was Sea of Tranquility in 2008.