tragicomedy of our species in the throes of sin and saintliness, suffering and salvation. Here we see humans, angels, demons, and dragons cast in an inert, wretched dance, set against backdrops of old marine charts of New Zealand coastline, rendered in serenely hued acrylic.

 

What to make of the macabre constellations of bodies, blood, and bile that besmirch our pristine shores? This surreal amalgamation of cartography and divine catastrophe emerge from Mortimer’s understanding of inhumanity as an immutable element of human nature. Life has always been a brutal affair, and endemic violence, famine, and plague remain a reality for many - even if that fact is obscured to those of us living on these tranquil islands. Mortimer deftly reminds us of this fact by inviting the apocalypse to our neighborhood, recasting the medieval in a contemporary light.

 

But don’t let Mortimer's fire-breathing monsters spoil your soufflé. His work thrums with hope amidst the horror, striking a delicate equilibrium between despair and the timeless aspiration of transcending our own folly. It is not for nothing that these apocalyptic terrors unfold within and are framed by maps - what is a map for if not for finding the way? Mortimer’s cartographical endeavors eschew orientation of the spatial variety, mapping instead the intangible realms of ethics, psychology and the spirit. Surreal scenes of depravity and barbarism glare out warningly in the way the original sailor's charts would caution of a shipwrecking reef. Like Dante, who himself made a metaphorical journey from Hell through Purgatory to Heaven in his Divine Comedy, Mortimer upholds the belief that we may yet find relief from mortal peril.

 

Mortimer often devotes a month or more to each of these paintings, and the finished canvases testify to this patience and deliberation. Intricate, elusive networks of signs, symbols, and code beguile viewers into lengthy inspection as they puzzle out subtleties and subtext. As in Dante’s epic, Mortimer’s paintings are replete with manifold allusions to political and social issues of our time, remaining firmly in dialogue with the present. Nevertheless, there is an eternal tint to his work, as with any art that engages the timeless paradoxes and mysteries of the human condition. His is at once a medieval and a contemporary affair - one that looks to our past in the hope of a better future.

 

Roger Mortimer graduated from the Elam School of Fine Arts in 1999. In 2014 he was the Paramount Award Winner in the Wallace Art awards - one of New Zealand’s top two art awards. In 2017, a survey exhibition of his work, 'Dilemma Hill’, was shown in public galleries in Wellington and Auckland. His paintings feature in a range of public and private collections in New Zealand and Europe.

With thanks to Nadene Milne for commissioning this introduction for her website.

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Portrait of artist by Solomon Mortimer

Roger Mortimer’s paintings contemplate the peculiar nature of humanity. He describes himself, with a twinkle in his eye, as a Catholic Buddhist and this theological compound has clearly shaped his perspective and his practice. His work is also informed by an abiding interest in psychology and his eclectic readings of  history - real and imagined. The latter fascination is particularly evident in Mortimer’s art, earning him the moniker 'contemporary visual-mythologist.'

 

This diverse array of inspirations coalesce in a strange and intriguing body of work. His paintings have a refined, medieval aesthetic that traceable to his early paintings, which featured elaborate monastic-style calligraphy, painstakingly deployed within curious paintings of bills, bureaucratic documents and mail-order catalogs. His recent work is inspired in large part by Dante’s Divine Comedy, and emphatically embraces the medieval style, as well as the thematic concerns of the time. These paintings are apocalyptic and fantastical, showcasing the spectacular

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