Thursday, December 8, 2011


Big question: What is art? Hmmm – too big. It would take a book, several books, to discuss that and I'm nowhere near competent enough to tackle it even in a small space like this. But from down here at my level I can offer my two cents' worth, inspired by how I reacted when I saw this mural.

Art can be many things. Challenging. Disturbing. Delicate. Bold. Intriguing. Magnificent. Enigmatic. Art can make you laugh or cry. It can make you think. Or worship. Someone who makes art may not set out to do any of these things, but they sometimes happen.

I don't think that my friend, the one who made this mural, set out to do any of those things either. He may or may not have ever painted a picture before in his life – I don't know. This mural was quite simply a response. A response to a situation that finally spurred him to action. And the situation developed because of the earthquake in Christchurch on 22nd February 2011.

On that day the wall of my friend's living room fell down. The wall was patched to keep out the weather, and stayed like that for six months. He became tired of looking at the ugly patched wall, and one day decided to paint it. Not just paint it, but to paint a mural. He was thinking Mondrian, and I flippantly suggested Jackson Pollock instead as being easier and not so wasteful of masking tape – all those neat squares.

It was a decidedly bold and challenging enterprise. The wall is 210cm high and 390cmm wide (7ft x 13ft), there were bulges here and there, and the patches were wayward and uneven, to say the least. My friend was not deterred. The design was initially dictated by the pieces of hardboard and plywood which stood proud of the torn plaster board edges they covered, so my friend started near the centre of the wall and set about disguising or emphasising the edges. The rest followed, shape by shape, line by line and colour by colour.

To my mind the result is art. Why? Because it was a gloriously creative, defiant reaction to a situation that was caused by the malice of nature. Because it was made in the spirit that we have come to understand that the people of Christchurch have shown over and over again, battered and torn as the city has been over the last year and more. Because the mural itself insists that we explore it for clues: is it a whale? is it a barrage balloon? is that a mountain, complete with ski slope? is that water, gorse rampant? can I see the bare brown Canterbury Plains in there?

My friend didn't do a Mondrian or a Jackson Pollock. I think it's more Picasso myself.

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