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To the Unknown New Zealander

6 August 2007

Looking at art is like looking after a garden: you need to dig it and then you need to go back to it again and again if you want it to bear produce, says Auckland-based artist Julian Dashper.

Dashper, whose survey exhibition To  the Unknown New Zealander opens at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu this Friday, 10 August, says his art is not a form of entertainment nor is it just about ideas.

Instead he says: "My art, like all art, is an idea in itself. The challenge is to leave your preconceptions and any difficulties you have with art at the door and visit the gallery for the same sort of experience as you would want to have in a garden or walking on a beach. You're there to look, to learn and to experience the journey."

Dashper throws down this gauntlet to all Cantabrians with his new exhibition To the Unknown New Zealander, which takes as its starting point the lone figure seated on the railway platform in Rita Angus's iconic painting Cass.

Dashper first became fascinated by Angus's work more than 20 years ago, producing a series of works based on Cass and Angus's life. He says Angus offers a unique vision of New Zealand's landscape and that her work has been somewhat overlooked in this country's art history in favour of her male counterparts.

With Cass being voted New Zealand's greatest painting recently, he says it is timely to revisit the work.

Dashper says it was the lone figure sitting at the railway station in one of the more isolated places in New Zealand that drew him back to her work. "Is it a man or is it a woman or might it be Rita Angus herself? Has the person just arrived or are they about to go somewhere else?" For Dashper, these questions are far more interesting than any answer.

"The lone figure in Cass has a blank, unpainted face. It is without features; an empty frame, an empty surface. You could cut a hole in the middle of the painting."

That same circular motif with a hole in the middle permeates Dashper's own works in To the Unknown New Zealander. The exhibition features paintings, photographs, limited edition polycarbonate records and their sleeves and one of Dashper's signature works Untitled (The Warriors) 1998 .

Peppered throughout the rest of the Gallery’s Permanent Collection display are Dashper’s iconic drum kits from 1992-93: The Hoteres, The Woollastons, The Anguses, The Drivers and The Colin McCahons, will be exhibited alongside major pieces by these artists.

To the Unknown New Zealander will also feature two previously unreleased recordings on iPod which Dashper made in New York in 2001 with legendary former Christchurch musician Hamish Kilgour.

Gallery Director Jenny Harper says Julian Dashper last showed in Christchurch more than a decade ago at the Robert McDougall Art Annex. "He suggested a show of this type as long ago as that, and we are especially delighted to be hosting it in the new art gallery along with the painting which provides its starting point."

Dashper, who began exhibiting in 1980, is based in Auckland but travels regularly. Solo exhibitions of his work have already been seen this year in Amsterdam, Auckland, Basel, Brisbane, Melbourne and New York.

Julian Dashper will deliver a floor talk at the Gallery this Saturday, 11 August, at 10 am.

To the Unknown New Zealander will be on display at Christchurch Art Gallery from 10 August to 14 October 2007. Admission free.

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