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Object: Horizontal no. 2

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Title Horizontal no. 2
Production Driver, Don (artist), 1970-71, New Plymouth
Medium summary acrylic on canvas
Materials acrylic paint, canvas
Classification paintings
Dimensions Image: 1160mm (Height) x 1832mm (Length)
Frame: 1183mm (Height) x 1860mm (Length) x 70mm (Width/Depth)
Credit line Purchased 1976 with Harold Beauchamp Collection funds
Registration number 1976-0010-1

In the early 1970s Don Driver embarked on a series of painted panel reliefs in which he explored juxtapositions of colour, line and depth. The reliefs fused painting and sculpture, incorporating panels of painted canvas, and later aluminium and stainless steel, assembled strata-like within a wooden frame. The five separate canvas panels of Horizontal no.2 advance and retreat from the viewer, depending on their colour and their placement within the frame — some are set back, some forward. The central black panel, in opposition to the properties of depth that the colour possesses, is the panel that protrudes farthest physically. The two dark green panels that surround the black are almost imperceptibly different in tone. Driver also plays with the visual weight of the colours: the earthy, ochre panel at the top appears heavier than the bright red band at the bottom.

Driver’s use of these panels of colour is similar to that of American artist Ellsworth Kelly: as in Kelly’s work of the same period, Driver’s colour panels are autonomous parts whose physical presence is emphasised when placed into the sculptural relief. Along with a growing number of artists in New Zealand in the early 1970s, Driver was not interested in creating literal representations of the world. In his panel reliefs he was concerned with working to create tensions with colour, shape and shadow. He did not wish his painting in this manner ‘to be evocative, but to be something to be looked at for itself … a combination of flat surfaces and colours just nestling against each other’.(1)

The panel reliefs have been described as representing the ‘purist’ end of the ‘truly eccentric spectrum of abstract and semi-abstract modes within which Driver has operated.’(2) Driver’s abiding interest in colour and material, most evident in his assemblage works, is present in the paint-saturated canvas of Horizontal no. 2, albeit in a pared-back form. The dense colours and matt surface express the same interest in the sensual as the reflective metal found in his more exuberant panel reliefs, and in the high key colour and texture combinations of his assemblage works.

Charlotte Huddleston

This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa, (Te Papa Press, 2009)

1. Don Driver, quoted in Patrick Æ Hutchings, ‘Eight New Zealand abstract painters’, Art International, vol. 19, no. 1, January 1975, p. 32.
2.Allan Smith, ‘Cut to pieces: Don Driver’s abstraction’, in With spirit: Don Driver, a retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in association with David Bateman, Auckland, 1999, p. 32.

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