Correctness by Mark Amery The Dominion Post, Friday June 24 2005.
Victor Berezovsky Mary Newton Gallery, till July 1
who has visited Holbein to Hockney, Te Papa's exhibition of drawings
from the Queen's collection have noticed the interest throughout
history in the workings of the human body in all its miraculous
twists and high-keyed emotional turns.
The ideal, beautiful body, cast in the fashionable measurements
of its particular time, was an artistic concern for several centuries,
at first at the expense of interest in our psychological makeup.
Later, faces and figures began to suggest the contradictions that
lie beneath our masks and gestures (Holbein being the best example
in that exhibition), yet it was only in the last century that
artists began to express more directly our internal landscapes,
liberating art from its focus on the figure and appearances.
Today, art through an amalgam of varied source material and styles
powerfully taps into the multiplicity of our complexion under
the skin. Wellington artist Victor Berezovsky's works on paper,
Marked, showing at Mary Newton Gallery, are a superb example.
As a base for these works, Berezovsky has appropriated a drawing
of the male figure from the 1900 book Artistic Anatomy by Dr Paul
A 19th-century anatomist, Richer's drawings have long been a guide
for artists wanting to achieve precise shapes for the forms of
the human body. Yet how much can we learn from anatomical correctness?
Berezovsky undermines Richer's work with his markings. Across
the surface of each are tattooed in Indian ink a collision of
designs, emblems and vignettes that speak across time and cultures.
Berezovsky's drawings move from suggestions of Asian and Pacific
designs to medieval European folk art. More crucially, they delve
dream-like in the abstract into an examination of blemishes on
the skin as marks of what is breaking out from inside.
These figures are chameleon-like, changing their camouflage every
time you go back to them. Their spots and splotches can transform
into small domestic scenes (a woman washing the dishes, a couple
in conversation) on the legs or torso, or shapes curling into
objects like a bowl or a funnel emphasising the body as a vessel
for a transmutation of fluids and thoughts into different functions
The figure itself faces us squarely, perfectly proportioned, palms
outstretched, handsome to a fault and ambiguous in racial characteristics
- like some kind of future genetically modified super-male. It
seems to say: "I am all here."
Yet Berezovsky contradicts the figure's open stance with every
stroke he makes, like an acupuncturist selectively pricking the
body to let wounds weep and build up textures on the skin as abscesses.
Different shades of skin and feeling pass across these figures
as if they were a landscape to project our own personal impressions
The immediate impression is old-worldly, a composite of symbolism
and design tracing our attempts in history to explain the workings
of the world through botanical, astrological and mechanical studies.
The brown and white ink gives the work an old, animal parchment
feel, dull and portentous of human horror, as if this were a medieval
folk catalogue warning of the fantastical signs of the great plague
that may appear on a victim's body.
Yet, look closer, and nesting within the warmth of the body's
interior, cogs and wheels turn, ferns and flowers bud and blossom,
and dim stars begin to twinkle. There's also a freeness of play,
lightness of touch and humour that engages your imagination, as
if the artist were presenting one of those cardboard dress-up
figures you hook clothes on to.
In this way, some figures were far more effective than others
for me, leaving me wondering if the exhibition would have been
more effective edited down to a smaller selection.
The works in their freeness are at their most powerful when they
engage as fully in sensation in the abstract as the figurative
Berezovsky sometimes very effectively builds up surfaces as skins
themselves scraping away at them in a way that, in their rough
tactility, connects strongly to our sense of touch.