Cool Hunter Predictions: Wayne Youle - Art Collector

Issue 51, January - March 2010

This profile appeared in the "Cool Hunter Predictions" feature, part of the annual special issue "50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2010"

As a member of a third generation of contemporary Maori artists, one in his mid 30s, Wayne Youle’s public profile has never been higher. A highly prolific, experienced exhibiter, he recently had 10 Down, a survey of his practice curated by Helen Kedgley, presented at Pataka in Porirua, and he is currently part of Close Encounters, an important collaborative New Zealand/USA exhibition in Chicago.

Youle is Canterbury-based though he was born and educated in Wellington. Though known for his colourful domestic sized, poppy sculptures or paintings that hang easily on walls, he can make large freestanding pieces. He starts by ruminating over some simple idea, usually one to do with post-colonial relations, and which in his hands, stops people in their tracks.

With this Nga Puhi, Ngati Whakaeke, and Pakeha-born artist you get the sense he likes to play the agent provocateur who mischievously baits both Maori and Pakeha communities, but who when challenged, can smoothly rattle off a convincing argument downplaying any hint of calculated offence – perhaps some pithy observation about commodification. His best works are richly layered.

He impresses with his complexity of thought, relentless curiosity and energetic output. While Youle’s work can appear scattershot, such as in his dense salon hang of over 70 works at Pataka where not all items were successful, in Token his recent Tim Melville show in Auckland, the art had a thematic tightness, an interconnectedness that consistently resonated.

Youle’s images work best in small exhibitions that draw out their conceptual underpinnings with clarity, and Token illustrated this. One work, Token Maori, a set of granite scrabble pieces from some bizarre cemetery game board, spelt out the two words of its title in the form of a horizontal cross-like plane – the Ratana Church’s symbol for spirit. It attacked tokenistic appearances that hide a paucity of substance.

Appearances are also critiqued in I Am What You Make Me, two photographs of the artist wearing paper-bags labelled Maori and Pakeha, with only his blue eyes revealed. Because of his facial features, eyes and pale skin, he often gets perceived as Pakeha as well as Maori. Strange eyeballs appear again in a snooker ball sculpture, Mongrel DNA, featuring Maori colours (red and white, no black) blended with non-Maori hues and what seem to be European aircraft decals.

It is the wit and profundity, obviously based on personal observation, that makes Youle’s art memorable. He is rapidly becoming a highly respected commentator on Aotearoa’s continually evolving, bi-cultural history.

John Hurrell

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