Sunday, August 09, 2009
  Julian Dashper: A few words on a mate

NZ Herald Saturday Aug 08, 2009

Julian Dashper had a work called Curriculum Vitae. His biography and list of exhibitions would be pinned to a gallery wall, taking more space each time.

That vitae part ended on July 30, but the curriculum bit will continue being added to, as people assess the achievement of one of New Zealand's most consistent and challenging artists.

Entering Elam art school in 1978, Dashper cut a large figure with his khaki shirt, umber corduroy trousers and shaggy mop of golden hair.

He came with a dog, a van, every Bob Dylan record and a back story that was obviously improvising with the truth, but so amusing it did not need questioning. The joker's mask protected him from the pressures of the institution and allowed him to get on with his serious purpose of becoming an artist.

In finding a voice Dashper was not shy about working through the slim canon of New Zealand modernism, painting landscapes that referenced giants like Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston as he assimilated their influence and moved on.

Through the 1980s, in tandem with John Reynolds, he made an art of markings, painterly effects and colour, often squeezing pigment straight from the tube.

Underneath the abstraction was an exploration of the city he traversed as a taxi driver. His father Dick, a former Ministry of Works architect, and mother Madeline, a potter, had developed his appreciation of architectural form and he knew every public artwork or sculptural relief in Auckland. The Tip Top factory, the Sheraton Hotel and other landmarks made their way into his paintings.

Dashper's abandoning of a painterly vocabulary in the early 1990s caught many by surprise, but the clues were there early. His first show while still at Elam, at Frank Stark's 100m2 Gallery, was Motorway Schools, two pairs of Polaroid photographs of Westlake Boys and Westlake Girls high schools, with a tape loop of motorway sounds running in the background.

Reassessing the hot abstract work in light of the cool conceptualism, it's clear the same concerns continued. This was an art about art, aware of its history, modes of production and distribution.

The readymade drum kit emblazoned with a name from the previous generation was an assertion by Dashper that those New Zealand artists were part of the wider stream of modernism, even if for New Zealand modernism was "a car we only get to drive secondhand".

Dashper set out to change that turning himself into an international artist based in New Zealand. That meant travel and residencies building up relationships with artists, galleries and collectors. He also took on limited teaching work, treating students as future colleagues and opening them up to the power of ideas. It meant ideas that could travel and not burn up the budget in freight costs.

Rather than wait for Artforum to notice him, Dashper mocked up a cover featuring himself and inserted it in the magazine as a paid advertisement, after negotiation.

His growing international recognition culminated in a retrospective which toured three state galleries in the American Midwest. There has been no similar attempt by any public gallery here to survey his achievement.

Julian Dashper is survived by his life partner and fellow artist Marie Shannon and their son Leo.
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