Allen Maddox

Grid & Green

1976
acrylic on canvas
2700mm x 2120mm

signed am, dated 2.2.76 and inscribed 37 Grid & Green in brushpoint top left verso

Provenance

Private Collection, Auckland.
Originally acquired from Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland, by Bill Cocker.
Acquired directly from Bill Cocker by present owner, 2003.

Essay

“Maddox’s works are a veil between him and the world: ravelling, torn, fragmentary, they look both ways, in to the mind of the artist and out to the mind of the viewer.”Read full text

Estimate $30,000 - $50,000
Achieved $30,485.00

Allen Maddox

Grid & Green

1976

acrylic on canvas

signed am, dated 2.2.76 and inscribed 37 Grid & Green in brushpoint top left verso

2700mm x 2120mm

Auction N˚3

Estimate $30,000 - $50,000

Achieved $30,485.00

Grid & Green

by Andrew Paul Wood

“Maddox’s works are a veil between him and the world: ravelling, torn, fragmentary, they look both ways, in to the mind of the artist and out to the mind of the viewer.”
– Martin Edmond, Militant Artists Reunion, 2005.

British-born Allen Maddox’s Grid & Green (painted 2 February 1976) finds its place right at the beginning of the artist’s exploration of the X-grid motif that brought him to public attention. For something so simple (and compared to later works, this two colour palette is very pared back) it’s an extraordinarily adaptive and mutable hook to hang the act of painting from; more intuition, innovation and expression than cold ultramodernist geometry, the chocolate brown weave and weft of the grid pulsates rhythmically against a pea soup yellow-green. Both colours are unified by their earthiness, but the warmth of the brown sets up a frisson against the fractionally cooler green with perhaps just a faint echo of tapa cloth.

The composition of the painting follows an architectural logic, rising up from a solid foundation of large boxed Xs topped by a row of smaller squares. On top of these the rhythm changes with a piano nobile of stretched rectangles aspiring upwards, and another row of shorter rectangles topped with a cornice of square boxes. The impression is of a classical harmony of proportions even if structurally it resembles the elaborate hākari structures erected for hui and ceremonial feasts by North Island Māori in the nineteenth century. The gestural, bravura brushwork and careless spatter serve to enhance the vitality and immediacy of the way Maddox painted, a link to Action Painters like Jackson Pollock and Franz Klein. It was painting on the fly but with all the certezza of a master, leading to his position as one of Gow Langsford’s top tier artists in the stable during the 1980s.

Several trees-worth of paper have been expended in the discussion of Maddox’s X. The most popular theory is that in crossing out what he didn’t like in earlier paintings of his, he fell in love with the gesture and mark. It is a point of intersection. Others have compared it to the crudest form of signature; the Greek letter Chi (the initial letter of Christ and therefore a reference to Maddox’s earnest Christianity); a nihilistic negation of the universe in general, but perhaps it is as obvious as being right there at the end of his surname. Another possibility is that St Andrew’s cross (the Saltire or crux decussate) was a more modest reference to spiritual suffering than the outright adoption of the upright cross of the Crucifixion. It simultaneously suggests and denies significance and meaning.

In the 1990s the Xs became wild and chaotic, once and for all severing themselves in Dionysian fury and ecstasy from the Apollonian modernist grid, light years from this comparatively austere work at the beginning of it all. Maddox’s painting is a little like Bryan Ferry’s singing. Just as with Ferry’s quavering falsetto you can never quite tell if he’s being archly postmodern and ironic or sincere in his sentimentality, similarly you can never quite tell if Maddox’s painting is a wild and frenzied catharsis, or a carefully and calculatingly contrived pastiche of modernism with a dollop of Scouse humour.