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Peter Roche's cinematic new show

DANIELLE STREET
Last updated 05:00 16/11/2012
Peter Roche
JASON OXENHAM
ILLUMINATING: Artist Peter Roche with two of his works from his new exhibition, Cinema. In front is Floating Tikis, behind is Trickle.

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A distinctive hum echoes through Peter Roche's immense workshop as dozens of neon lights flicker on-and-off, competing for attention.

Mr Roche has owned the decaying Ambassador Theatre on Pt Chevalier's main street for about 20 years.

The king-sized space is littered with bold artworks spanning his long career, which create an awe-inspiring sight in the large private gallery.

Mr Roche is exhibiting five new illuminating works at the Parnell-based Saatchi & Saatchi Gallery this week as part of a rare public show.

"Cinema" is a series of twisting and undulating neon light sculptures he has been working on for the past year.

Mr Roche says the vibrancy is what lures him to work with the tricky and expensive medium.

The neon sculptures begin life as pencil drawings he scrawls on paper while working on the floor.

"I just get down and go for it, for half a day if it takes that long until something comes out. And then I just grab it. It's like grabbing a still frame out of a movie and presenting it."

Once he has settled on the images he works with a specialist neon fabricator who bends the bulbs to match the sketch.

The result is a series of intricate sculptures of tangled neon lights, which move for the viewer.

Some of Mr Roche's best-known works are large-scale pieces like Coral, adorning the Vero building in downtown Auckland, or the fiery Saddleblaze, which lights up 110 gum trees on Alan Gibbs' famous sculpture farm on the shores of the Kaipara Harbour.

This new exhibition is not quite that large but will see pieces such as Electric Shiver stretch an impressive two metres in length.

The blue-light triptych is made of three panels of lights that dance and shimmer erratically.

"It's really hard to animate like that. It's just not standard stuff that you buy off the shelf," Mr Roche says.

"They won't repeat themselves because they aren't just two lights flashing.

"They've got their own personalities basically."

Film-maker Bridget Sutherland met Mr Roche in the 1980s and has since been a fan of his at-times confrontational work.

Ms Sutherland says his new exhibition is an evolution from the performance art that Mr Roche began his career with after graduating from Elam art school in the 1970s.

"These works don't just sit there, they move and have their own presence and confront the viewer. So the work has become the performance," she says.

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Ms Sutherland says pieces that comprise the "Cinema" exhibition hark back to early experimental films such as that by Len Lye or American artist Harry Smith.

"Peter has been working as an artist for a long time now.

"He has always been experimental and he pushes the boundaries."

Cinema is on until November 21 at the Saatchi and Saatchi Gallery, 123-125 The Strand, Parnell.

- Auckland City Harbour News

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