Carefully Nurtured Conundrums

Book Review

  • Lateral Inversions: The Prints of Barry Cleavin

  • By Melinda Johnston, with T.L. Rodney Wilson
  • 288 pages 120 color illustrations
  • Published by Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, NZ, 2013
  • NZ$55

The status of Barry Cleavin in New Zealand can be discerned from the sumptuousness of this publication—nearly 300 pages long, hard-bound, beautifully printed, and elegantly typeset in red and black. It documents a long career, running from 1966 (a Schiele-esque etching of two nudes) to a computer-aided etching of a monument toppled in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

In between are 118 other prints, mostly etchings, each given its own spread with a color reproduction and brief essay. Cleavin works in many of the print’s traditional areas of strength: there are political works and satires, visual and verbal puns, surreal juxtapositions of parts. Everything is executed with finesse. His technical skills—Cleavin studied briefly with Gabor Peterdi in 1972—are superb (he even indulges in viscosity printing on occasion).

The book is organized chronologically and the trajectory is interesting to follow. In his early career Cleavin seemed to be trying hard to “say something” in an almost literary vein.

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