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Don Driver

Red Pocket (with blade)

1981-2
tarpaulin, found woollen skirt, rubberised canvas, twine and sickle
1085mm x 810mm

signed By Don Driver, dated Finished 1982 and inscribed Red Pocket (WITH BLADE) 1981 in ink verso

Provenance

Private collection, Whangarei. Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, 1982.

Essay

In the war, things were in terrible turmoil. What I had learned at the academy was of no use to me and the useful new ideas were still unready. . . ....

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Estimate $6,000 - $9,000

A Revolution Within: Merz and the assemblages of Don Driver

by Andrew Clark

In the war, things were in terrible turmoil. What I had learned at the academy was of no use to me and the useful new ideas were still unready. . . . Everything had broken down in any case and new things had to be made out of the fragments: and this is Merz. It was like an image of the revolution within me, not as it was, but as it should have been.
—Kurt Schwitters ¹

Schwitters’ idea seems so simple, in retrospect: to make a new art from the broken, fragmented detritus (both physical and mental) of the modern industrialised city, left in the wake of a war that had decimated the European continent. However, in this one impulse would lie the seeds of a whole raft of radical ideas and movements: Pop Art, Conceptual Art, performance, happenings, installation art, Fluxus, Arte Povera, and, ultimately, postmodernism.

This idea (at some number of removes, perhaps, but nonetheless so) is also the motive force behind the practice of Don Driver. For Driver, the idea that the objects of physical culture surrounding him in provincial New Zealand already possessed the aesthetic qualities required to make art must have been his own “revolution within.” Rather than deriving his work from ideas of nationalism and regionalism that fetishized the landscape (and were, necessarily, thus beholden to Romantic traditions about the sublime in nature), Driver chose a different approach. His work draws on a physical culture that already exists, but that also already has the requisite aesthetic qualities to allow its components to be reassembled into works like those of his American and European contemporaries.

In this way, by deploying the burlap sacks, farm tools and second-hand clothing seemingly precipitated out of the substance of late-20th century regional New Zealand (for anyone familiar with this particular time and place, even the smell of some of Driver’s works can evoke nostalgia), Driver effortlessly solved what is perhaps the principal dilemma confronting artists from this part of the world: How to make art in a location and culture vastly removed from the centres of cultural power and influence. Driver’s trick was to make internationally-minded work, that draws on the legacy of Schwitters through artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenberg, Jasper Johns, Joseph Cornell, Jean Tinguely and Donald Judd, but using the materials he had to hand, the “fragments” of culture that settled to the bottom in his hometown of New Plymouth. His assemblages are thus inherently grounded in their own time and place, recording material culture at the same time as they document an artist grappling with the cutting-edge intellectual and aesthetic concerns of his era.