Get on the Damn Plane
Review by Jason Brown, Cook Island News, November 24, 2003
Mark Cross: “Get on the damn plane” Importer Brett Porter is the unsung hero of the country’s latest exhibition - by Niue-based artist Mark Cross. “Brett Porter told me - get on the damn plane,” says Cross at the opening of his exhibition last Friday night at the Beachcomber Gallery, three years after he first arrived on a flight from Niue. “I had no choice,” he says about the time back in 2000. “I was destitute. To be honest, my career changed at that point and although we disagreed on how to do that Brett consistently supported my work. He is the unsung hero of this exhibition.” Invited guests applauded Porter and the comments after short speeches by Cross, co-exhibitor Mahiriki Tangaroa and gallery owner Ben Bergman. Cross did not mention how he came to be destitute or the fact that it followed a family tragedy, a time when he produced some of his most compelling and powerful works. Shrouds, endless fields of bones and meticulously observed misery were part of a creative miasma for Cross during the late nineties; the loss of a child grieved, stroke by minute stroke. Today’s “Exiles in Paradise” is a far sunnier affair. Titles of his paintings move on from the gruff, bluff wit of earlier works like “Global Enema” to rhymey fun like “Peach Beach.” Many comment on the precise technique Cross employs. “Is that a painting?” asked one woman, seeing his work for the first time on the internet. “I thought it was a photo.” In real life, however, the magic in Cross’ work is not its realism but its romance. Niue and its other- worldly backdrop of makatea or raised coral cliffs are captured in an increasingly impressionistic manner. Maybe he got tired of being so precise. But his famously delicious water scenes are becoming more liquid too, photography fading to paint as soon as you lift your head above sea level. A standout from the exhibition is “Cave Swimmer” featuring a Niue lass, with the pale skin of a returnee, also fresh out of the water, in a coral coastal cave, senses made leaf sharp by coolness on skin and a dawning awareness of homeland heritage. Legs dangle dazedly in water you want to jump into yourself. “It could have been better,” says Cross grudgingly. He’s not being shy. A couple of younger colleagues also critique the piece. The face is not right. It doesn’t sit well on the body. Not, they seem to suggest, photo-perfect enough. Looking for photos, however, is to miss the point. Even if it were, everyone has seen photos of themselves or others when, for a split of a second, people look nothing like the Hollywood poster they imagine. Cross is crispest here, as he paints himself into this thinnest of slivers between imagination and reality.