During a recent trip to Auckland, Leg of Lamb visited the studio of kiwi artist Peter Roche, the inhabitant of the old Ambassador theatre in Point Chevalier. Re-fitted by renowned architect Noel Lane, the artist’s home contains a fully equipped bar that also serves as Auckland’s wildest rock ‘n’ roll venue.
Roche etched out his career in the ’70s, conducting extreme, sado-masochistic performances in which he cut himself with razor blades, wrapped ox tongues around his head, performed enemas and, notoriously, had sheep’s kidneys grafted to his body.
Roche’s “go hard ya fukers” attitude is equally apparent in more recent kinetic sculptures and acid flung satellite dishes that convey debauched scenes including – among other things – projectile vomiting, dismemberment, splayed legs and a unicorn involved in ‘watersports’.
The elegance and restraint of Roche’s new work marks a departure from the rock ‘n’ roll exuberance of earlier projects. He rejects the hard and fast in favour of subtle rhythms articulated by luminous fluorescent tubes. Bought in bulk, the tubes lie piled Don Driver-like in shopping carts. Or, punctuated by bursts of colour, they dance across walls (Wave, 2-Tone Tango + Blue) and onto the floor (Flap).
Roche is an artist who thinks big. He recently created a massive neon installation for Alan Gibb’s sculpture park in the Kaipara. He has a 20 metre, $5 million kinetic sculpture called Twister in the pipeline. The beauty of Roche’s new works is that their scale is confined only for the sake of convenience. Pieces like Stream and Wave have the potential to be installed ad infinitum.
Outside of The Ambassador, it’s hard to see Peter’s work these days. It is not often found in public institutions or curated exhibitions, perhaps on account of the artist’s admirably uncensored artistic vision (last year one prominent Auckland dealer rejected a proposed show of lightboxes on account of their subject matter; nude self portraits complete with raging erections). Peter Roche always dances to his own tune.