Roger Mortimer survey exhibition

1 March 2017

Roger Mortimer's survey exhibition Dilemma Hill has opened at Pātaka Art + Museum in Porirua and runs until 21 May 2017. The exhibition, which will also show at the Gus Fisher Gallery in Auckland from July – September, explores the last 16 years of Roger’s practice from his early calligraphic works based on bills, through his ceramics to his cartographic paintings, including his most recent investigations of medieval depicitions of heaven and hell and based on illustrated manuscripts of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The exhibition is accompanied by an ornately designed catalogue with an essay by art historian and Gus Fisher director Linda Tyler.

Symbolising the spiritual quest of human life, Divine Comedy tells the story of Dante’s travels through the three realms of the dead: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise). The Roman poet Virgil is Dante’s guide through Hell and Purgatory while Dante’s ideal of woman, Beatrice takes him to Paradise. As various scholars have pointed out, artists depicting hell over the centuries have taken their cue from what was going on around them. Dante’s Divine Comedy has traces of the feudal landscape of 14th-century Europe. Lower hell is depicted as a walled city with towers, ramparts, bridges and moats; fallen angels guard the citadel like knights.

Like the medieval artists, Mortimer is depicting the consequential issues of his time. Using their representations of hell as a metaphor, he brings the battle between left and right hemispheres of the human brain into view. This division of hemispheres is responsible for incompatible versions of the world, different priorities and values. Currently calculation and logical thinking are more highly valued than creativity and the artistic senses. The dilemma of the exhibition’s title is the human predicament: it could be argued that left-brain human behaviour tendencies have blocked action toward a sustainable future. Unless brought into balance by the right hemisphere, the left hemisphere will triumph – at the expense of us all. Linda Tyler