March 11, 2018. Filed: Exhibitions
Starkwhite will present new work by Fiona Pardington (NZ) and Michael Zavros (AUS) at Art Basel Hong Kong 2018 in an exhibition titled Beyond Surface Affect. Both artists produce strikingly beautiful artworks – Pardington with her large-format photographs and Zavros with his trademark photo-realist paintings – where something on the surface is the source of something incomparably larger. The two complementary bodies of work, with their surfaces of excessive perfectionism, will operate as a meditation on the fluctuating relationship between outward appearance and the conveyance of ideas and emotions.
Fiona Pardington has made it part of her practice to reanimate dead material she finds near her home or in museums around the world: birds, mushrooms, plaster life casts of Maori heads, fragments of archival handwriting. She interrogates death and celebrates collecting and preservation.
The new work for Art Basel Hong Kong comes from her ongoing project, Nabokov’s Blues: The Charmed Circle.
As a famous novelist of his time, Vladimir Nabokov often featured on the cover of or inside Time, Life, Vogue, and the like, catching butterflies—and so became also the most famous lepidopterist of his time. Most assumed he was just a hobbyist, although a few specialists realized he was a world-class scientist, as has been borne out in research, books, and exhibitions from the 1980s to the 2010s.
A Nabokov lover since her teens, Pardington was stunned to read in 2011 how science had vindicated his hunches about the populating of the Americas by the Blues he specialized in. To pay homage, she has photographed, in European and American museums, only butterflies Nabokov caught and killed, words or diagrams in his hand, butterfly images on printed pages he marked: “The butterflies must be his own, their thorax crushed by the fingers that held the pen with which he wrote. Butterflies taken, like relics. One degree of separation. Love and death fold together.”
Her photographs disclose the beauty and strangeness of what he could see in “the charmed circle of the microscope”.
Pardington’s work springs from a strong Māori knowledge base, evident in the relationship it establishes with the forces and objects of the natural world through concepts of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and mauri (spirit) – the very values Pardington sees reflected back in Nabokov’s relationship with his butterflies.
Both artists revel in the power and beauty of natural forms, teasing out the delicate relationships that exist between nature and culture and the forms of knowledge and practices that preserve or threaten these relationships.
Michael Zavros paints beautiful things beautifully. His subjects include European palaces, gardens and follies; up-market men’s fashion, flowers, luxury cars and jewellery; Lipizzaner dressage horses and Japanese pedigree onagadori chickens.
Increasingly the artist is turning his gaze inward, to home and self, making work that engages with beauty and the culture of narcissism. The Zavros lifestyle is depicted and documented in his art. He paints what he appears to have become – a poster boy for a life perfected. He lives an outwardly perfect life, perfectly groomed for lifestyle magazines and shared through social media – he has 95,000 followers on Instagram.
Zavros’s artworks present at first glance as perfectly rendered photo-realist painting, but they generate readings and responses beyond the surface affect. They underscore contemporary society’s obsession with beauty and vanity. Like advertising, what is being created in a Zavros painting is not so much an object, a type of physical thing, but rather an artificial need or desire. “It is part of the function of narcissism — the aim of narcissism,” writes psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, “to expose by provocation the narcissism of those with whom it comes into contact.”
Fiona Pardington Eros, from Nabokov’s copy of W.J. Holland, The Butterfly Book, I 2016. With thanks New York Public Library.
Fiona Pardington Polyommatus eros Och. Wing scales 1, 2016. From the Nabokov’s Blues: The Charmed Circle series. With thanks Musée Cantonal de Zoologie, Lausanne, Switzerland
Fiona Pardington Polyommatus eros Och, glassine I 2016. From the Nabokov’s Blues: The Charmed Circle series. With thanks Cornell University Insect Collection, Department of Entomology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
Fiona Pardington Scribbled out wing scale study 2016. From the Nabokov’s Blues: The Charmed Circle series. With thanks New York Public Library.
Fiona Pardington Pterourus rutulus, (Western Tiger Swallowtail), glassine 2016. From the Nabokov’s Blues: The Charmed Circle series 2016. With thanks Cornell University Insect Collection, Department of Entomology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Fiona Pardington Aphrodite I, from Nabokov’s copy of W.J. Holland, The Butterfly Book 2016. With thanks New York Public Library
Fiona Pardington Nabokov Oak Creek Sulphur, glassine I 2016. From the Nabokov’s Blues: The Charmed Circle series. With thanks Cornell University Insect Collection, Department of Entomology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Michael Zavros, Narcissus, 2016, oil on board, 30.5 x 30.5 cm
Michael Zavros, Zeus/Zavros, 2018, oil on board, 105 x 150 cm
Michael Zavros, MZ/SO, 2015-17, pigment inks on Hanhenmuhle Photo Rag, 120 x 90 cm
Michael Zavros, Boy with Lemon, 2018, oil on board, 41 x30.5 cm
Michael Zavros, Portrait of Leonidas Zavros in Versace, 2018, oil on canvas, 122 x 92 cm
Michael Zavros, The Happy Couple, 2017, oil on board, 24 x 18 cm
Michael Zavros, Girl with Oranges, 2017, oil on board, 30.5 x 41 cm
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