Tongan artist's exhibition travels from New York to Auckland

‘Uli ‘I he ‘Uli  Black on Black
Visesio Siasau
Orexart Gallery
Until July 1

The Black on Black exhibition at Orexart in Auckland is a great example of contemporary art intersecting with traditional Polynesian art to create work that inhabits two mind sets, two methods of creating art and two ways of looking at the world.

Siasau, who won The Wallace Arts Trust Paramount Award, spent six months in New York and a six-month residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP).

While in residence he was approached by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and invited to show his work at the gallery. This followed on from a show by the Samoan artist Yuki Kihara at the Met in 2008

The Met said of his show "Tongan artist-philosopher Visesio Siasau has built a career exploring the notion of the void and its conceptual expression in art."

His Black on Black exhibition features works which are geometric and minimalist in various shades of black, which appear to derive from traditional Tongan ngatu mats works as well as European abstraction

The exhibition consists of eight, two square metre works on canvas, with variations of abstract /traditional patterns and one large work on tapa

The large work, Mateaki ($26,000), exists as both a traditional mat and contemporary installation, bridging two cultural forms.

The paintings have to be carefully examined, the sleek and matte black oil and acrylic making it difficult to appreciate the work.

The black paint is also competing with the light, which should be helping to reveal the surface but instead acts in flattening out the surface.

They force you to examine them. The changes in tone are so nuanced it's like trying to find outlines in the pitch-black night.

The references to Frank Stella’s geometric works are obvious as well as the black paintings of Ralph Hotere and the black paintings of Kazmir Malevich of a century ago.

Just as the abstract artists of the 20th century tried to pare back their images to essential colours and shapes, so Tongan and other indigenous cultures created a series of patterns and shapes, which summarised the shapes and patterns of the environment, plants, animals and birds.

These black paintings also emerge out of a way of perceiving the world, its beginnings and the unknown or afterlife. Their blackness is a metaphor for nihilism or a belief in some meaning to the void.