Robbie Whyte: Questioning the Ethics of Abstraction

19 August 2014

Normally when you attend an art gallery you expect to see art already lining the walls.

Robbie Whyte's chalk drawing

Robbie Whyte's chalk drawing

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For Robbie Whyte’s first solo exhibition, Abstract / Ethics, alongside his own work he intends to fill 12 empty frames in collaboration with visitors to Toi Pōneke Gallery at a workshop Monday 1 September.

Robbie’s own drawings take four to eight hours to complete in one sitting. “It’s a process that forces me into a meditative space. They take a long time and a lot of testing to get right, and I am always proud of what I’ve created.”

On opening night Robbie intends to introduce gallery visitors to this process but break it down into a much shorter timeframe, providing the opportunity to be involved in the production of one of the large-scale wall drawings.

Visitors to the workshop and artist’s talk will be able to talk with Robbie about all things art and his own work as well as produce work to be shown inside the gallery. There is an instructional drawing book that visitors can download or read, or they can make their own work at the drawing desk that sits in the gallery.

In his fourth year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Massey University, and at the age of 21, Robbie is very much engaged with the academic side of art but believes that everyone should be able to access the conversation around art's importance and function in society.

“So much of art is locked up in essays and talks which surround the work, and on top of that, years and years of art education. I want people to be able to access my art and the conversation it contains.”

From a young age Robbie was aware of the social, cultural and economic disparity he grew up in. It is this mindfulness that’s informed his work throughout his study and for this exhibition.

Hailing from a long line of wood-workers and boat-builders, and being raised on a small farm in Ngongotaha near Rotorua, Robbie had the freedom to create and experiment.

“Coming off a farm I had that instinctive Kiwi ingenuity and was able to refine those skills using the workshop at Massey.”

Robbie has made the frames for the art that will be created, the wooden compasses used to create the work and the table visitors can sit/stand at to produce their art.

Council Arts Advisor Jodie Dalgleish says, “Robbie has developed a body of instructional work that involves people, filling some of the silence around abstract art with their participation, engagement and conversations.”

In his final year of high school, Robbie won the Rotorua Wearable Creations ‘n Colour Awards and his prize was to travel to Europe and experience art and culture in some of the major cities. The highlight was the Venice Biennale where he saw Judy Millar’s work – an Auckland based artist – in Personal Structures.

Seeing the high level of importance placed on the arts in Europe, he realised that access to and investment in art as culture is limited in New Zealand. “We need to value art more highly but to achieve that it needs to be integrated fully into our society.”

The opening of Abstract / Ethics is at 5.30pm, Thursday 28 August at Toi Pōneke Gallery, 61 Abel Smith Street, and it runs until 20 September.

To sign up for the workshop, Monday 1 September you can phone (04) 385 1929 or email drawing.book.14@gmail.com, places are limited.