The Black Box.

David Irwin explores ideas of
repetition with artist John Reynolds.

To explore ideas of repetition in art and design (and, well, to disguise a pretty ugly, black polythene box that was, thanks to building works, the dominant visual element in the Auckland studio for six months), David Irwin organised a series of workshops with artist John Reynolds. He explains the rationale and results here.

Throughout his long artistic career, John Reynolds has explored the strength inherent in repetition. He has repeated thousands of tiny canvases to make one large one, Cloud, and 108 charred wooden poles for a park at Hobsonville Point. Clearly, he has built a reputation by repeating himself! So, when the black polythene box in our Auckland studio, built to keep in check the dust from the construction works of our studio expansion, became too much to bear, John and I decided to once again test the idea of repetition.

The workshop involved the entire Auckland studio, 30 people, armed with John’s silver pens. Under the artist’s instruction we proceeded to repeat a line on the black box, a simple everyday line of small dashes or dots, created by 30 different hands. When finally complete, this now-lined canvas was filled in with drawings, monograms, something, anything, all, again, repeated.

The transformation was remarkable. Lines were blurred between artist and designer, between building and interior, interior and safety barrier, canvas and plastic. What was a negative became a positive.

Left Haylea Muir leaves her mark on The Black Box.


The physicality of drawing a line, writing the first word, applying the first paint or making the first mark on a blank canvas takes some commitment. Always a little scary, it marks the point of no return, the start of something. This tension was amplified when 30 hands started making lines on our nude black box. The concept was in part undertaken to democratise the process of making “art”, to break it down through anonymity. Using the same pen as John, draw only a dot, a dash or a line. Perhaps we were all artists; perhaps we were all artists making one artwork; perhaps, we were all artists making one artwork made up of lots of our own individual artworks. The simple act of making had begun. The process was to evolve and the next question – as scary as the first lines – was when to stop; when was enough enough; when was the line, the last monogram, enough; when was it complete; was it ever complete?


We lived with our black box as an art installation in the centre of our studio. Our combined silver lines had transformed and given meaning to something that previously had sucked the light and life from our studio. It was time to say goodbye. Yet our process was only beginning. The art was to evolve. Thirty people reassembled, and the black box was sampled under John’s instruction. Thirty samples were cut, each an individual decision. There were 3 formats to choose from, ones we use everyday: A4, A3, and A2, portrait or landscape. Once again the tension rose this time as our silver pens where replaced by stanley knives, the cut more poignant than a line as it was final, the black box gone forever. Samples captured the essence of the black box and once again transformed the space from negative to positive, from solid to void.


Thirty black artworks now
hang in the void where
the black box once stood.
They are a memory to the
transformation of;
black to light,
solid to void,
process to artwork,
ugly to beautiful,
troublesome to peaceful,
designers to artists,
individuals to group,
artist to instructor,
mentor to friend,
the repetition of a humble

everyday line on a black box.