fl.oz catalogue essay by Kate Montgomery [2008]
[Helen Calder, fl.oz, 64zero3 Gallery, Christchurch, NZ]

Emerging from a practice that, from the outset, has been rigorous yet carefully contained, it was an unexpected moment to be set adrift within Helen Calder's highly coloured freeform pools, spills and the wiped away shadows of fl.oz. Whereas earlier series arrived as resolute but somewhat shy modulations of Calder's signature bulbous poured form, these new works push themselves forcefully out of that mould and straight onto the wall in parts. Accompanied as they are by controlled pools and gluts of pure colour, as well as the odd evocative shadow of stain, the maple planes that serve as a ground for these intrepid new works find their own well-groomed grains enlivened and ready to writhe.

The allure and associative deployment of specific materials within broader realms have always factored into Calder's productions, and here both the title of the exhibition and the works themselves bear a sincerely measured relation to their physical constitution in terms of the fluid ounces required to physically produce these paintings. While Calder's Paint Set series, which secretively sheathed and stayed their high-key excesses in swathes of black, had peeped the smallest lick of colour out from in between their camouflage and a ground of the same making, these works threaten to ooze and gestate, spread and engulf. Indeed, what had originally appeared as a stringent ethic of patience and restraint in earlier series is here overthrown in favour of a commotion of skins and brazen surfaces, yet the processes and controlled principles guiding their production remain the same.

Starting with small panels that spoke to the form and use of even the humblest paint-stirring stick discarded and left to seep and drip, it quickly becomes apparent just how focused and patient the process of each work's construction was as shades of paint were carefully steered as they pooled and drifted off to meet with the expanded planes and territories of surfaces other than their initial ground. Employing the poured tone-on-tone intonation of Calder's earlier processes, the excessive nature of these saccharine liquids and their confusing viscosity can't help but attract and intrigue just as Calder's benignly sexualised curves and droplets had done in previous series.

Perplexing in terms of their desire to escape their own constitutive ground, only to be halted just a little further a-field, and relying as they do upon each of the finished works' stasis as a necessary foil that enables and enlivens the formal composition of each work, fl.oz.' desire for dynamism is both elastic and ecstatic. In this suite, implicit formal attractions toy with our expectations of the experiment at hand. Frozen in flux, Calder's pools of colour are caught in an act of escape, echoing the lively but mischievous allure of many a warmly regarded misfit slipping away from the scene of their latest hi-jinks.

Kate Montgomery