Julian Dashper 'Cathedral Room, Waitomo Caves'

Julian McKinnon
Posted on 7 November 2023
“I used to like to watch paint dry. It helped me understand the painting, or at least that is what I used to tell people watching me watch it dry.”[1]
Julian Dashper

Few artists in New Zealand have created an art practice of such diversity, and consistently high quality, as Julian Dashper. His metamorphosis from neo expressionist gestural painter to conceptual minimalist is an artistic arc unlike that of any of his national contemporaries. Dashper, quite knowingly, charted the cultural transformation of the New Zealand art scene as it moved from an inwardlooking regionalism to a self-aware internationalist perspective in the late stages of the Twentieth Century.

Dashper is perhaps best-known for the refined minimalist assemblages and industrially produced paintings that he made in the 1990s and 2000s. Such works first led to, and were then informed by, his 2001 residency at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas – the institution established by key American Minimalist Donald Judd. Marfa made a vivid impression on Dashper and his work. He once stated, “In Marfa art unfolds in a different way. It is a different system. That’s where I think his [Judd’s] genius was, he made a different system.”[2]

By the time of his residency at Marfa, Dashper had become increasingly prominent in international art circles, frequently exhibiting and lecturing in Europe and the United States. Though as much as he engaged with international art scenes, he always had one eye on Aotearoa. Writer and curator Robert Leonard states, “He [Dashper] made New Zealand art history seem rich and pertinent, but also available for revision and mistreatment.”[4] Analysing, unpacking, and at times making fun of New Zealand’s art history was a central thread of Dashper’s work. A text on the artist by New York art gallery Minus Space states, “Much of his work concerns the connection between abstract art and popular culture. One recurring theme is the reading of international Modernism in New Zealand art, and how in New Zealand, great Modernist works are known largely through reproduction.”[3]

Julian Dashper
Cathedral Room, Waitomo Caves
oil on canvas
title inscribed, signed and dated 1986
1545 x 1220mm

Private collection, Auckland.
Purchased from Dunbar Sloane, Wellington, 12 November 1997, Lot No. 70.

$55 000 - $75 000

View lot here

Just how Dashper engaged with modernism and New Zealand art history changed significantly over time. The 1980s paintings that preceded his refined minimalist output were altogether different in appearance and approach. These works featured lavish application of paint in vibrant palettes. Gestural marks and paint runs were the key components, far cry from the drastically pared back neo-minimalist pieces that came later. These paintings often had tongue in cheek titles, placenames with no evident relationship to the content of the work.

Cathedral Room, Waitomo Caves is one such painting. Dated 1986, this work shares more in common with the work of American neo-expressionist painters JeanMichel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel than anything associated with minimalism or Marfa. In its vigorous splatters and paint runs, large brushstrokes, and bright palette, Cathedral Room, Waitomo Caves showcases Dashper’s dynamic approach to working paint on a surface.

Dashper’s standing as an artist of enduring significance to New Zealand and international art has steadily increased since his untimely death in 2009. Cathedral Room, Waitomo Caves is an excellent example of the neo-expressionist approach to painting that earned him his early accolades and shaped his later work.

Julian McKinnon

1 Julian Dashper, This is Not Writing (Auckland: Clouds/Michael Lett, 2010). 157.
2 Ibid. 108.
3 Robert Leonard, “Julian Dashper 1960–2009”. Art and Australia 47, no. 2, Summer 2009.
4 “Julian Dashper”, minusspace.com. (https://www.minusspace.com/julian-dashper).