By Liz Maw
lizmaw.com, NZ$64.95 | Reviewed by Andy Palmer

THE ARTIST’s book has been the staple of many artists for many years, most notably Nobuyoshi Araki and Ed Ruscha. Recent advances in publishing technology have allowed more artists to self-publish their own work. The time from designing to printing can be quicker than traditional publishing methods. Last year, for example, Matt Couper published a bound catalogue of his Sarjeant Gallery show, available at the opening, which included photos of the works as installed in the gallery. Recently Auckland painter Liz Maw self-published My Beloved Hackneyed, an exquisite book with 32 pages of poetry and 82 pages of her mythical paintings.

I’m a fan of her painting but not such a fan of her poetry. I have a passing interest in poetry, though I’m not a big reader of it. I was very interested to read Maw’s work, to see if I liked it as much as her artworks, and to see how it relates to her painting. I like my poetry to be simple and direct with good rhythm and flow, but I still want to be moved by the language, by the imagery. If I had to name one, Bill Manhire would probably be my favourite poet.

Firstly the paintings. I initially happened upon her work in Telecom Prospect 2004 at Wellington’s City Gallery. I have since seen a couple of her dealer shows at Peter McLeavey’s in Wellington and Ivan Anthony’s in Auckland. Emma Budgen, curator of Telecom Prospect 2004, describes Maw’s paintings as being “drenched with a sense of desire, beauty and power. The virile, beautiful people she depicts are stylised, distorted and charged with meaning. Unsettling in their content, these are paintings that exude a potent sexuality.”

They are often simple compositions, one person against a monochromatic background, referencing both renaissance art and contemporary culture. Her style reminds me of air brushing and those 1970s velvet paintings, but there is immense detail in Maw’s work, and the aforementioned unsettling content takes her mythical, imaginary paintings into another realm.

While this book contains 82 pages of her artwork, it only contains 14 paintings. The other pages show specific detail of each work – generally the face and groin – so that we can marvel in her technique, precision, and perfectionism. Her paintings have a beautiful luminosity to them and the heavy gloss paper used for the reproductions in this book do the works complete justice. They’re not quite like the real thing, but the combination of the detail portions and wise choice of paper stock is a good compromise for folk like me who are unable to afford one of her paintings.

Interspersed amongst the paintings are pink A5 sheets which contain her poetry. It’s a lovely design idea which clearly separates the poetry from the painting. But the nature of their interspersal also means you have to flick them out of the way to fully take in the images.

I remind you that my interest in poetry is passing, fleeting even. To me there’s an air of teenage angst to these works, a feeling that they’re the type of poems people expect from poets rather than the true voice of the poet. I admit that I’m probably betraying my prejudices here. I prefer my poetry to be more conversational, more naturally flowing, and in a more natural language. These lines from Nowadays demonstrate both what I like and dislike in poetry.

        I feel the edge of autumn
        as though it be molesting in its premonition

        my fortunes are told
        to a waste paper basket

I find the first lines clumsy, even affected, yet I love the imagery of the latter couplet.

I kind of feel bad criticising Maw’s poetry because, for some reason, I feel they are more personal than her paintings. Yet she has decided to make them public, and once that happens, they are at the mercy of the public, the reader. There are occasional little hints of her paintings, but I don’t feel the poems give us any greater insight to that part of her creativity, and realistically there’s no reason way they should necessarily.

There is a degree to which the artist’s book is a vehicle for the artist’s ego; it’s self-promotion, it’s personal, it allows them to present an image of themselves that they may not be able to do in a gallery situation, or when published by someone else. To this end Maw’s book succeeds. While, for me, Maw’s talent lies in her painting, there may be those out there who love her poetry as much or more than her artworks, and regardless this book presents a fuller picture of Liz Maw creative person.

As you’ve probably guessed, I think My Beloved Hackneyed is worth getting for the paintings alone. One day some of these works will be in a survey book published by a public gallery, but it’s unlikely you’ll get to see them in the same glory as presented here. I’ll definitely be trying to get my hands on any books Maw puts out in the future while saving my pennies to buy a painting or two from her.