Allen Maddox

untitled

1978
acrylic on loose canvas
1270 x 1485mm

signed AM and dated 78 in ink lower left

Provenance

Acquired from Dunbar Sloane, Wellington, 14 February 1993, lot 37.

Essay

Born in Liverpool as Britain recovered from the Second World War, Allen Maddox (1948-2000) arrived in Napier, New Zealand as a teenager. He studied at the University of Canterbu...

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Estimate $20,000 - $30,000
Achieved $24,150

Allen Maddox

untitled

1978

acrylic on loose canvas

signed AM and dated 78 in ink lower left

1270 x 1485mm

Auction N˚1

Estimate $20,000 - $30,000

Achieved $24,150

Allen Maddox: No Symbols

by Andrew Paul Wood

Born in Liverpool as Britain recovered from the Second World War, Allen Maddox (1948-2000) arrived in Napier, New Zealand as a teenager. He studied at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts in Christchurch under Rudi Gopas until 1968. Along with his Gopas-taught contemporaries Philip Clairmont and Tony Fomison, he formed part of a generation of complex, difficult, brilliant, troubled and often doomed expressionist painters. Maddox was certainly that in spades: quixotic and quarrelsome on a hair trigger, living larger than life in the Romantic tradition, an outsider frustrating to and stigmatised by the mainstream, a diagnosed schizophrenic, an alcoholic, a dabbler in various drugs, and a genius very much ahead of his time in an artistic milieu that was still clinging to the landscapes of previous generations.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Maddox would go on to pursue a purist form of abstract expressionism—still  too narrow a category to adequately describe him—almost exclusively. Around 1975-6 he adopted his instantly recognisable ‘X’ motif. This began as an act of negation of error, the crossing out of whatever wasn’t going right in the painting. Eventually these Xs pleased him enough to be worth retaining in their own right, and grew to fill the whole canvas or assembled themselves into grids. The fugue of Xs reasserted themselves as the dominant feature of his painting again in the 1990s in far looser compositions. With repetition, they gained emphasis and authority. They can be read simply as a basic geographic form, although others have suggested they allude to the Greek letter chi (the initial letter of Christ) and Maddox’s religious faith. X the unknown. X the signature of the illiterate on a contract. X marks the spot. More than likely, however, X blots out and defiles the pristine void of the painting’s surface.

Maddox rarely reworked his paintings. His mark-making was as spontaneous as the Xs he doodled on cigarette packets and matchboxes, but every bit as deliberate as the flies he crafted to go fishing. There were no preliminary drawings, as he tackled the raw canvas immediately. Later in his career the works are made up of tactile, dribbling strata of paint, whereby the artist started with a thinly-painted, loosely elastic grid of Xs and proceeded to paint over them repeatedly, allowing the colours and forms of the previous layer to peep through in flamboyant counterpoint and echo. These paintings are hybrids of two different directions in abstraction; each stroke shouts with a barely restrained Dionysian energy given order by the grid of late modernism. They stand out in the history of New Zealand painting as something quite exceptional and unique. As art historian Tony Green observed in Art New Zealand in 1979, “…every stroke stood up, for itself and nothing else, no symbol, no metaphor, a physical piece of action, not mistakable for anything else.”