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Watene Ah Um

Watene Ah Um

Yonel Watene

Opening 01.08.18 6-8pm

Artist Talks 23.08.18 6-7pm

Watene Ah Um is a 2-part exhibition featuring new paintings, sculpture, photography, video work and installation by Yonel Watene. Watene Ah Um is segmented into 2-parts , Ah and Um . Ah explores ideas rooted in Modernity (mainly the lifestyle of the consummate draftsman), and will include an oil painting, photograph and various minimal sculpture. Um discusses traditions born in the late-40’s (mainly to do with Abstract Expressionism), and will feature new paintings on denim and Watene’s inaugural video work. Firstdraft’s Gallery 1 is divided to accommodate this segmentation. Fabric is draped from wall-to-wall as a divider, splitting the gallery in two. The exhibition is named after Charles Mingus’ studio album Mingus Ah Um (1959). Inspired by the shows namesake, that’s touted as “a tribute to ancestors”, Watene Ah Um sets out with similar goals of tributing ancestors, namely art historic figures and movements throughout Modernity and beyond. Like Mingus, Watene wants to discuss time as a timeless, singular entity - not a series of dated events. This school of thought plays into ideas of a timeless cool, and that quality is constant throughout time. The shows title uses the combination of two expressions, ah and um. For this reason, the exhibition examines the versatility of common expressions, and how they’re used to express emotion beyond linguistic languages. The versatility of common expressions also attribute ideas around ‘freedom of expression’, which is a cornerstone of creative freedom. Through creative expression, an artist or a musician can talk to an audience’s emotions by solely relying on visual languages and sound (and at it’s rawest form, without written words or vocal lyrics ). With Ah Um, Watene wants to encourage the audience to read an emotive visual language that’s beyond pure linguistics and human rationality, despite (or alongside) the shows historical connotations. These ideas attest to the commonality between art and music, or in this instance, the commonality between Mingus Ah Um and Watene Ah Um, despite the stark differences between art, music and their respective practitioners - they’re totally different worlds, but expression is constant and forever, no matter how you do it.

Read the full exhibition essay here.



Yonel Watene was born 1989 in Aotearoa, and is of Māori (Ngati Maru (Hauraki)) and Greek descent. Since 2016 Watene has created a diverse oeuvre that grew to include painting, photography, sculpture and video. His visual language, while being inherently complex, is strategically invested in modern cultures, art historic traditions and autobiographic material, all of which are important to the artist. His one 'loose' blanket rule is that he typically works in series, in either one or more mediums at a time. Each series usually focuses on a material investigation or an ideological examination, which slowly unravels as the artworks develop. This simple guideline, where he becomes absolutely fixated on one or two objectives at a time, helps create coherence and structure out of a complex visual language. His work is mainly concerned with select histories in art and culture, his whakapapa and whanau.

Watene has artwork in the Wallace Arts Trust Collection, Hocken Collection, Jan Warburton Trust, and various private collections in Aotearoa New Zealand, Spain, USA, Mexico, Australia, China and England. Recent and upcoming exhibitions include: Five Years, PAULNACHE, Gisborne, Aotearoa 2018; Object without Object, play_station, Wellington, Aotearoa 2018 (group); For a moment, maybe six weeks or so, no one knew how to make a painting, Wallace Gallery, Morrinsville, Aotearoa 2018 (solo); The Spirit, PAULNACHE, Gisborne, Aotearoa 2017 (solo); rugby ball, Casa Lu, Mexico City, 2017 (solo); Anything Could Happen, Yu Gallery, Shanghai, 2017 (group).

Yonel Watene is represented by PAULNACHE Gallery, Gisborne, Aotearoa.