The Artists, A snapshot of Contemporary New Zealand Art Practice, c. 2007-08. pg.18., 2006




Photo- Dillon Ryan

'The union of dualities and the evolutionary process of painting are significant focuses within my work. I'm also interested in memory and perception, how they affect ones perceived reality. I like the idea of observing/learning, taking what you need, applying and reflecting. Application is everything. Developing and evolving a language, resolving ideas, attempting a union, a balancing of dualities, a documented meditation.'

The art of Dunedin artist Adam Douglass explores surface and substrate over stunning large scale canvases. Pieces envelop the viewer, opening a portal to a primordial, multilayered world. Douglass sees the act of painting as having the power to generate alchemical cultural transformations – through the description of one’s perceived realities on a flat surface, the capturing of memory and observation and the creation of something from raw materials of pigment and paint and string and canvas.

After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting at the Otago Polytechnic of Art, Douglass drew primarily from an exploration of dark and light – where points of light arise out of darkness of unfathomable depth and great voids open up before a viewer. Darkness is culturally viewed as destruction, death, noa – yet is depicted by Douglass as the residing place of all the elements of creation. Lightness by contrast is the saviour, the source, tapu – yet Douglass shows it as a rupturing force, as a destroyer. This duality of cultural interpretations vs. the possibility of elements has remained a constant theme in his work, being applied to diverse themes such as Maori mythology, appropriations of early colonial paintings and, most recently, his interpretations of human physicality.

Douglass’ work to date has focused on creating highly abstract renderings of traditional forms. Colours and contrast are subtle with the experimental media use creating a fascinating, almost tactile finish –when viewed from afar the need to understand the depth and the process used to create the surface of his works can be overwhelming. Upon close inspection and time spent with each piece we can detect remnants of obscured forms and a sense of the artist’s hands having marred and painted as both the creator and destroyer of his surface and form.

Douglass indeed utilises both creative and destructive methods to make his pieces. His ‘evolutionary’ approach to painting, formerly only used in the cutting and physical shaping of the canvas, has progressed to where he begins with a natural form, taken from life (and from the everyday) and from that initial point proceeds to transform it. A cut through the centre of a painting, rather than creating a scar or the introduction of negative space, becomes a source of beauty and new direction.

In his most recent works, Douglass comments on human social development and progression by depicting interactions between the ‘sacred’ parts of the human body with those parts of our make up which, through culturally ingrained perceptions of human physiology, have historically been considered ‘dirty’ or ‘unclean’. Heads, hands and feet are placed together in the high art tradition of painting, interacting as forms of gestural abstraction. Forms are buried amongst the surface interest of each piece, which consist of many layers and which can take on a stratified appearance, revealing aspects of the pieces one by one to the viewer. Depending on the physical angle of approach to the work, drips and streaks of varnishes might catch the light, stitching may protrude from the canvas, voids may appear in the subtly contrasting paint. In allowing forms take on their known shapes while remaining as raw remnants that we can either choose to see or overlook, Douglass reinforces the idea of a cultural viewpoint affecting perception.

Douglass seeks above all to explore the interaction of the mundane versus the beautiful and the enigmatic regions where they overlap. By requiring viewers to physically shift their perspective to gain the full range of effects from his work, he develops a powerful metaphor for the need for flexible cultural attitudes and the abandonment of rigid thinking – anything can be a source of beauty depending on how it is viewed and who is viewing it. And this is the basis for the exploration of dualities that have always fascinated him as an artist: these contrasts of light/dark, man/nature, growth/decay evident in his work originate in and reside in the endlessly variant perspective of the individual – a situation which can lead to conflict but which is also the source of creativity and colour in human existence.

Tamara Darragh


From the book, The Artists, A snapshot of Contemporary New Zealand Art Practice, c. 2007- 08










©Copyright - Adam Douglass 2004
Dunedin, New Zealand