Blinding us with talent: Rew Hanks

Posted on February 11, 2011

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Rew Hanks, The Hunter and Collector, 104 x 70cm, 2010. Photo Janet Tavener. Courtesy: the artist and Watters Gallery.

Rew Hanks, 'The Hunter and Collector', 104 x 70cm, 2010. Photo: Janet Tavener. Courtesy: the artist and Watters Gallery.

As an artist, Rew Hanks is too bloody talented for his own good. The technical prowess of his printmaking skills is more than impressive. It is dazzling, numbing, paralysing. Faced with his picture perfect lino cuts, even seasoned art-world professionals become stunned mullets and start uttering inane things like, Wow, how long did that take?

Which, of course, totally misses the point. Showing off his considerable craftsmanship is not the motivation for Hanks. The man has something to say.

Blinded by his realistic representations and 57 subtle shades of grey (created using nothing but lino, sharp tools, black ink and a huge dollop of tenacity and skill), it is easy to miss the fact that the suite of prints in Hanks’s solo show, The Governor’s Garden, conceals a razor sharp political acumen, an obsession with pop culture and a dark humour so dry it leaves you gasping for a drink.

 

Rew Hanks, 'The New Zealand Rose', 56 x 56cm, 2010. Photo: Janet Tavener. Courtesy: the artist and Watters Gallery.

Rew Hanks, 'The New Zealand Rose', 56 x 56cm, 2010. Photo: Janet Tavener. Courtesy: the artist and Watters Gallery.

A good example of Hanks’s cunning way with narrative is his beautifully hand-coloured lino print of a possum and warratah flowers. At first this gorgeous round print seems lovely, but utterly innocuous. And redolent as it is with the whiff of Australiana, it teeters dangerously on the edge of kitsch. But Hanks pulls it back from the brink. Closer inspection reveals a decorative border that looks suspiciously like something lifted from a Maori meeting house, and aren’t those silver ferns in the background? Hanks has titled this piece The New Zealand Rose. The same possum that is a beloved cuddly critter here is a hated invader there. Context is everything.

Hanks created these works within the context of a year long residency at The Royal Botanic Gardens and something of the atmosphere there has seeped into the work. Known for its massive flying fox population, it’s not surprising that a few bats have crept into Hanks’s prints… but with a twist. In Midnight Message From the Count, Peter Garrett sports Batman’s signal on his bald head. But the rock star turned politician looks more like Dracula, keen to suck blood, than the caped crusader, ready to save the day.

 

Rew Hanks, 'Midnight Message From the Count', 30 x 20cm, 2010. Photo: Janet Tavener. Courtesy: the artist and Watters Gallery.

Rew Hanks, 'Midnight Message From the Count', 30 x 20cm, 2010. Photo: Janet Tavener. Courtesy: the artist and Watters Gallery.

In The Hunter and Collector, Hanks presents a smug looking Joseph Banks, whose collection of specimens the Gardens holds. Although Banks is usually portrayed as a heroic man of science, Hanks points out some of the damage he (and his fellow colonists) wrought.  At his feet, the head of Indigenous freedom fighter Pemulwuy languishes, pickled in a jar, next to a prickly pear cactus that quickly became a pesky weed. And this is just the beginning.

If you can take the time to clear your head after the sucker-punch delivered by his technical skill, Hanks’s images are smart, pointedly ironic, delightfully cheeky and just waiting to be deciphered.

Tracey Clement

Rew Hanks: The Governor’s Garden is on until March 25 at Redbox Gallery, Royal Botanical Gardens and at Watters Gallery , Nov 15 – Dec 3,  2011.

 

 

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Posted in: The Good