Part retro billboard, part South Pacific fantasy, part cultural tribute, When the Sun Rises and the Shadows Flee is one of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s major acquisitions of 2006. This epic work (3.5 x 7.3 metres) based on a Rarotongan beach scene, appears at first as a kitsch left-over memory of the artist’s visit to the capital Island of the Cook Islands in 2001. Black silhouetted palm trees and a deep blue/black sea and beach-scape are depicted. Light flares off a reef of tinsel on the floor and large shimmering glitter discs on the painting are activated and ripple in the breeze of an electric fan. The viewer is drawn into a light between spaces, an interaction of sublime yet savage inevitability proving a spellbinding experience – leading a young viewer to ask: ‘Mum, is that what heaven looks like?’
Following the death of his father in 2000 and the artist’s subsequent visit to Rarotonga in 2001, ‘heaven’ is very much a subject matter of this work, the artist himself stating that his construct reveals a revamped Avaiki– _the illusory promise of an ultimate destination; his manipulation of the 17th and 18th century European obsession with the Pacific ‘garden of Eden fantasy’ a clever consequence.
For such a vital career, much has already been written of Reuben’s work. The painter himself wants to mystify you with details of Maori genealogy (Whakapapa), personal family history, sexual politics, his relationships and friends, native land rights, fabric, fashion and wallpaper design. Like a spiritually charged textile, they weave a cultural pattern that underscores the fundamental agenda of his artwork
Credit: Filmed at Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 'Beloved' December 12, 2009 - October 30, 2010.