Michael Cubey : Painter

Aaron Lister writing about "Green River":

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.

Aaron Lister
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Above: "Green River, 2006, oil on canvas


From the exhibition 'Still Here':

Painting is still here, despite it having been killed off many times since the 1840s. It may indeed be Undead, in which case you would really need to make sure you had the right bullets to finish the job, or cut off the head.
But painting should acknowledge that while it is in a fitter state of health than the Bald Headed Art Men would like, it may well be irrelevant. And that can be a glorious and quite liberating place to be.

Michael Cubey's recent paintings pull elements from his own paintings from the past 25 years, and those of other painters that continue to inspire and challenge him, influences from his formative years in New Zealand alongside other painterly references.

He takes the ultimately futile, comical and irrelevant pursuit of painting seriously. He is in it for the long game, and would readily acknowledge that he is still finding his own language and voice and is continuing to work through some strong influences.

Cubey's early work was aggressively three dimensional, engaging in a love of material, shape and colour, a sort of 'expressionist formalism'.

He has gradually abandoned this abstract territory, seeing it as a dead end road, and has increasingly populated his shallow painted worlds with what are often dark shadowy figures, and painted 'signs', most notably the recurring question mark motif. This is more recently combined with grotesque, comical elements, the laughing grinning, vomiting heads. Cubey calls these there Idiots.

What has remained constant over the years in Cubey's painting is a very physical approach to painting, using objects such as paintbrushes hanging off the painting, painting on shaped supports such as ping pong paddles or chair seats and a strong use of colour and a very evident love of paint itself. He wants his paintings to get an immediate response, but also to be layered and complex enough to warrant time in repeated viewings.

A.W Alabaster