Iain Cheesman: Visionary Moments

Iain Cheesman is an artist who intrigues me.  His works traverse sculpture, assemblage, painting and installation, and what I immediately enjoy about them is their tactile nature and irreverent humour.  Frequently there are deeper references or subtext in his art, some of which are detectable, whilst others are more cryptic and require greater contemplation.

Cheesman has been quite prodigious over the past few years, exhibiting nationally at Corban Estate Arts Centre, The Young Wellington, The Vivian in Matakana, etc. and what is evident is his constant exploration of various materials.  I am a great fan of his text works and most I have encountered tend to be sculptural pieces made from PVC.  Here, in this amusing exhibition Visionary Moments, Cheesman has again included text but instead the words are created by holes punched into calfskins.

Blanketing an entire wall of the Little Gallery at the Pah Homestead, each calfskin features a word broken down into syllables.  After a fair bit of sounding out the words, I realised each calfskin was perforated with the name of an art movement.  Some of these syllables have been turned into homonyms e.g. Futurist = FEW / CHUR / WRIST, Surrealism = SIR / REAL / IS / HIM, and thus changing how they are read.  Cheesman drolly toys with language in these artworks, how it has evolved and been re-shaped, as the syllables are almost rendered unfamiliar and foreign.  I laughed at how long it took me to comprehend what I was reading aloud 😛

This exhibition is a study in semiotics, testing how people interpret and derive meaning.  The syllables can be viewed as individual words or part of a whole, and invite different narratives and understanding.  The title Visionary Moments is a play on words: these works trifle with our vision, as the punched holes appear and disappear before our eyes and cast marvellous shadows on the back wall.  Furthermore, such art movements (mostly modern and occurring in the 20th and 21st Centuries) would have been considered ‘visionary’ in their time.

Cheesman’s works can be seen as declarative emblems of identification and allegiance, yet I also see them as chapters in a book on art history.  Art movements have loosely defined start and end dates, or are often defined after the fact, grouping artists who are working at the same time or towards a common goal.  For instance, Post-Impressionism included artists Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat, who each had distinct styles and techniques yet were all reacting to Impressionism.

Hence, these calfskins emphasise the multitude of ‘visionary’ influences that artists can draw upon.  By changing how we read and interpret language, he changes how we can interpret their art and the influence of these –isms.  They offer up the prospect of these art movements being rewritten and understood differently by individuals, and the textured amorphic sculptures by the window are like stand-ins for viewers absorbing all before them.  Playful, witty, and loaded with curious moments, this exhibition is a must see!

Iain Cheesman will be giving an artist talk on Saturday 23rd May at 12:30pm.  Visionary Moments is on until Sunday 7th June 2015 at the Little Gallery, Pah Homestead, in Hillsborough.

For more information on the artist and this exhibition, please check out the following links: