Allen Maddox

NZ 1948-2000

Allen Maddox has the reputation of being one of New Zealand's finest exponents of abstract expressionism Like the late American painter Jackson Pollock and Maddox's close contemporaries Phillip Clairmont and Tony Fomison, his life typified the romantic concept of the hard-living artist.ᅠ In spite of the general art world trend away from abstract expressionism Maddox maintained the integrity of his style creating intelligent works that are captivating and invigorating - works that have been described as “images for the hardcore art lover.” (Keith Stewart, 'Telling the whole story', Sunday Star-Times, Feb 8, 1998).

In 1975 Maddox began his 'crosses in boxes' theme that brought him to the attention of the New Zealand art world.ᅠ What began as an act of negation - the crossing out of a work that was not going well - came to be a positive new direction for Maddox and remained an enduring motif for over twenty years.

As a symbol it has been interpreted in numerous ways, and Maddox's Christian beliefs open his work up to many interpretations.ᅠ He has referred to his work as 'sublime', confirming the notion that at times his painting, like that of numerous 19th century landscape painters, was an attempt to direct the viewers’ thoughts towards a spiritual realm, specifically that of a Christian God.ᅠ He has also used the cross in other religious contexts as it appears in the Latin monogram for Christ (an X superimposed over the capital letter P).ᅠ This symbol can also be read as the first and last letters of the Latin word for peace - pax.ᅠ This then creates a paradox in that while the ‘X” was discovered through an act of negation, Maddox has also used it to evoke its opposite, peace.

Paradoxes are evident in other aspects of Maddox's work also.ᅠ While his technique is derived from the freedom of abstract expressionism he also used the device of the grid to structure his paintings, creating a conflicting perception of a random evolution and an underlying formalism. This was achieved through the expressionist gesture of the cross being repeatedly caged in by the grid system that surrounded it. “There seems to be a nice little paradox buried in that; grids being the epitome of order and intellectual arrangement and expressionism being, well something else entirely . . . It is the painted resolution of what is only, after all, an intellectual dilemma that gives Maddox’s work its power and rakish charm.” (Hamish Keith, Allen Maddox, Gow Langsford Gallery  exhibition catalogue, 1996.)

In Maddox’s early cross paintings the grid is far more apparent, often painted in as strongly as the cross. By the mid 1990s he had begun to give more focus to the cross itself. Whilst still often including some form of subtle grid effect through the repetition of the crosses, the size and shape of each cross was no longer dictated by its box. It was during the 1990s that Maddox’s paintings became increasingly loose in their composition, and the repetition of the cross motif became more and more chaotic.

There is little or no reworking in Maddox’s paintings; he has an improvised and spontaneous approach which clearly references the Abstract Expressionist movement. A pure enjoyment of the materials is apparent; a pleasure found in the pigments and viscosity of the paint, as well as the texture of the canvas.

Maddox’s later works are made up of tactile layers of paint, begun with a thin painting of a grid and series of X's which were painted over and over with a denser layer, leaving the colour of earlier strokes showing at the edges of the new one.ᅠ In each stroke there is a sense of the dynamics of the process - “the result is the appearance of a canvas on which the paint is still in movement, hence the presence of a hand not long passed through here.” (Tony Green, 'Allen Maddox in Auckland, Art New Zealand , No.12, 1978).ᅠ While many of the works have a graceful poise they span a spectrum of emotions from tormented rage to euphoria. There is also at times a wry humour and a light-hearted lyricism.

He is too one of New Zealand's great colourists using strong colours and clever juxtapositions.ᅠ It is painting “made permanently dynamic by the dazzle of its colour and the sheer panache of its making In its wild brush strokes and random runs and blotches you can see the grain, feel the current of talent.”(Keith Stewart, 'Telling the whole story', Sunday Star Times, February 8, 1998).

Allen Maddox passed away at the Hawkes Bay Hospital on the evening of Wednesday the 23rd of August 2000.ᅠ Maddox’s death was truly the end of an era in the history of contemporary New Zealand art.ᅠᅠ Along with his two closest friends, artists Philip Clairmont and Tony Fomison, he was the last of a certain type of artist who epitomised the notion of the dedicated artist struggling in his garret dedicated to create.

Maddox is represented in numerous public and private collections including: the Auckland Art Gallery; Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; Govett Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth; Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui; Bishop Suter Gallery, Nelson; the Chartwell Trust Collection and the James Wallace Collection.






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