Michael Cubey: Painter

From the ‘Real Art Road Show’

Aaron Lister writing about the painting ‘Green River’, oil on canvas, 2006.

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Michael Cubey’s recent paintings revolve around the adventures of ‘the paintman’. This name may refer to the figures that have appeared more regularly in Cubey’s art over the last few years. These are literally men made out of thick layers of multi-coloured paint. The name may refer to Cubey himself, toiling away in his studio. For over 20 years, Cubey has pushed and tested the possibilities of a painterly practice.
The use of high-keyed colour is at the core of Cubey’s art. A lurid day-glo green dominates this painting, supported by other vibrant colours – bright oranges to deep mauves – from the ‘toxic’ end of the spectrum. Colour is freed from the demands of naturalistic representation; it’s not there to describe what and how we see. Cubey also avoids conventionally tasteful colour combinations. Freed from these demands and conventions, colour takes on a life of its own. It provides both a physical presence and even a narrative impulse.

This exuberant use of colour connects Cubey’s painting to that of Rob McLeod, his art teacher at Wellington High School in the mid-1980s. Both painters have taken a similar winding path through and around expressive painterly approaches and formats. Cubey and McLeod both wield bright colour in opposition to what they see as an often timid and anaemic tradition of painting in New Zealand.

This painting was exhibited in 2006 at Bowen Galleries, Wellington. The exhibition’s title Stop Thinking About It stresses the importance of a physical response to art, rather than a purely intellectual one. The art of the ‘paintman’ aspires to a state of sensuous confusion, refusing to offer any secrets or answers. The artist and the viewer are meant to lose themselves in the colours, forms and textures. Green River suggests that an over-intellectualised approach to making or viewing art, represented in the painting by the hovering question marks, can easily become a hook on which to catch or hang yourself.

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Aaron Lister