Roger Mortimer’s new exhibition takes its title from a painting in the show and an actual lodge in a Catlins campground at the bottom of the South Island. With the artist’s idiosyncratic, subtle, sly wit, it also nods to the Black Lodge in Twins Peaks. In suggesting that lodges are place when men plan and plot, masculinity is added to Mortimer’s commentary on the forces that have shaped out land.
Across both textile and canvas, Mortimer presents epic and metaphorical stories of navigation and transformation, drawing on 15th century illustrated manuscripts of the famous poem The Divine Comedy by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri.
This graphic imagery is set on adaptations of contemporary marine charts, complete with Māori place name and indigenous flora. The replacement of European settlor names on the maps, which is constant in all his work, is a political act acknowledging Aotearoa’s prior occupation. The role of mapping in the colonisation process, with its naming and claiming of territory, is directly suggested – as is the role of Christianity in colonisation.
This distinctive juxtaposition of medieval European imagery and local setting provides a rich commentary on this country’s cultural history and has led to Mortimer being describe as a “contemporary visual mythologist”.
As the Divine Inferno sets out allegorical and richly visual imagery for the consequences of human actions, Mortimer seems to ask questions about the contemporary moral imagination. At a time of huge anxiety in the world, how do we collectively construct a vision of right and wrong when so many in the western world no longer believe or trust in ‘the given’, in the untrammelled ‘progress’ of capitalism and concepts of heaven and hell that have defined and shaped western thinking and social frameworks?
Mortimer has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Auckland, where, although Pākehā, he went through the Te Toi Hou (Māori Arts) programme at the Elam School of Fine Arts. In 2014 he was the Paramount Award Winner in the Wallace Art Awards which came with a six month residency in New York at the ICSP programme. The judge describing his work as “medieval in appearance and utterly contemporary contemporary in intent”. In 2017, a survey exhibition was shown at Pātaka in Wellington and the Gus Fisher Auckland. His work is in a wide range of collections in New Zealand, Europe and Asia.