Column of Light is painting as architecture. It has the scale of domestic architecture at nearly four metres high; and it echoes the construction methods of built forms with its stacked seven panels. But anyone familiar with Bambury’s work will also find associations to the piling up of the primary Chakras in a Tantric diagram in the title of the work and the number seven; and through these the painting directs our attention to our own bodies. The Column of Light functions as an echo or reminder of how bodies occupy physical, sensual and spiritual space.
Though the work exceeds the scale of the human figure and has the potential to dwarf the viewer when seen up close, it shuns the cold austerity of other minimalist abstract works. Bambury’s meticulous layers of colour and fused pigments are redolent with sensual variations of texture and density. Further, the perfect geometry of his stacked form of seven units each divided into nine sections, reveals subtle imperfections in its rendering that evoke memories of the body and organic, rather than machine-like, manufacture. The painting just is; has always been; born rather than fabricated. In these respects Column of Light extends the issues which emerged out of minimalism and conceptualism. The effect of the work is that it functions with an architectural elegance, classical gravitas, and sensual magnetism that draws us into the presence of its space and materiality as if we have been drawn into a sun-filled garden, shrine, or tower. In Bambury’s own words, he uses “the allure of beauty of surface, colour and space to provide a runway into the work” thus offering “people a painting experience, something you don't have with anything else in the world.”
Stephen Bambury (born 1951) graduated with a Diploma of Fine Arts (Honours) from the Elam School of Fine Art, Auckland, in 1975; and travelled to and exhibited in the United States, and in Australia where he was artist in residence at the Victoria College in Melbourne, in 1987. He was the recipient of the inaugural Moet et Chandon Fellowship in 1989 and remained in France until 1992, when he returned to Auckland to live and work. He remains one of the most distinctive and classical voices in New Zealand abstract minimalism today and Column of Light is one of the most striking and luminous of his larger works of the past decade.
Stephen Banbury, Column of Light 2001-2002, acrylic and resin on seven panels, 3880 x 700mm
Previously published in Important Paintings and Contemporary Art, 25 November 2010, Art+Object the 21st Century Auction House, Auckland, pp62-63.