Review and Opinion
How to get hooked into community art (when you’re not a professional artist)
A tale of persistence by Caroline Holmes
How to get hooked into community art (when you’re not a professional artist)
A tale of persistence by Caroline Holmes
- Find out that people have started to plan major efforts to upgrade your local tired, run-down shopping centre and decide you want ‘in’.
- Learn about the magical success story of Valloria, the dying Italian village totally revived through art (specifically paintings on doors) and decide something similar could revitalise Glengarry.
- Realise that artists are not rushing to take up your brilliant idea, so you’ll just have to try yourself, even if your own standard is way below what you’re really after.
…..So I was thinking, what would I most want to change? All those ugly flat, straight lines!… and (since the owner of Glengarry Laundrette was willing to let people do art in his unused shop space, and he needed a sign to show lost campers they’d come to the right place to do their washing) wouldn’t an outsized 3D T-shirt be a great idea?
Problem: sculptors are even harder to find than painters, and I’d never done anything but paint. Better find out whether I actually could work in 3D. So I looked up playdough recipes on the internet, made a mini T-shirt on a bit of cardboard and baked and painted it.
There was so much playdough and it had been such a great feeling shaping it, I had a go at a tree. Then came a lightbulb moment: if other people liked doing this too, we could make a forest! Tried it out with the Weigh Club, and they made some fabulous trees.
And that’s how the Free Art Activity stall at the Community Market started. For two consecutive months, playdough trees were made on cardboard by all sorts of people, from a 2-year old to an 82-year old, with all the ages in between. One man stood making a cactus, laughing the whole time, as if he couldn’t believe what he was doing. One young boy stayed for 20 minutes, doggedly trying and trying until he had a palm tree to his satisfaction... and then proudly brought various family members to see and got us to take a photo for him.
(This format has continued: we can collect 20 or so pieces each market by asking people as they pass by to do something they can mostly complete in 5 minutes; visitors to the Art Space provide more.)
8 people helped to turn all these contributions into a completed artwork. One person painted a tree, another person came along and changed it, and then another. A process remarkably without acrimony: the whole aim was to honour someone else’s original work and make it look as good as possible. When the two boards were mounted on the wall, we were proud of everyone involved, and happy to have a work that celebrated the diversity of the community: not just local people but visitors. This is a friendly place.
From trees it was a short step to fish and other underwater creatures. Again over 50 individual items, this time crowded onto one board and given a coloured background to make a lagoon. Again 8 people (not all the same ones) helped finish the artwork. This one is displayed on an easel in front of a curtain in an empty shop.
By now it was April and if we didn’t apply for funding immediately we’d have to wait another year. So having very little clue about mosaic wasn’t going to stop us. We’d just have to find out as we went along.
Rushing in where experienced artists with any sense would fear to tread, we put in an application for funding to make four.. yes four… panels of mosaic, each 90cm by 120cm! Two consisting of flowers (everyone can draw a flower) and two of butterflies (same reason. Both are brightly coloured and part of nature.)
got the funding (yay!), and now we have to produce the goods (uh-oh), by May
2013 (best not think about that part). Getting the flower drawings was easy.
Making designs to display them effectively was another matter.
Here’s the design for the first panel,
using photos of the drawings and
without the branch and extra stems
we’ll be adding. (Some colours will have
to change due to unavailability in tile or
crockery.) When this was printed I hadn’t
learned to paint in Gimp. Now that barrier
has been overcome, the second panel will
be designed with usable colours and simplified flowers to make things easier.
(Below) Ever-reliable long-term member Janet and new member Corrina, undaunted in front of the full-size greyscale printout
All along I was researching mosaic styles, techniques and artworks, and thinking, discussing with anyone showing the slightest interest…and thinking some more.
Most people seem to see mosaic as ‘smashing plates and making something from the pieces’. While broken crockery will definitely be included in the work, it would be impossible to reproduce people’s drawings unless we actually cut and shaped tiles, too. So we’re working in “opus sectile”...the marquetry-like technique of using shaped pieces. Not to indulge pompous ambition (well, maybe partly), but to honour the small pieces of self-expression that people have given us (sanctimonious though that may sound.)
Now what we’re offering is a chance to learn, along with us, the skills of using tile-cutters, nippers and files. OK, that’s not creative… but it’s still empowering. People are always surprised and pleased at their own success.
At the moment nearly 30 individuals (including 6-year old children) have learned to operate a tiler’s cutter. Many can now use nippers (10 upwards), file and rod saw (safe and very appealing for little boys).
Nearly all these people have made a petal, and some have made several. All will feel a connection to Glengarry when they see the panel containing the result of their efforts …whether drawing, cutting or making…displayed.
And for people who want more freedom, thanks to Kerry from Blenheim there are always ‘Pebble Pavers’ (small rectangular pavers, narrow tiles for edging and variously sized and coloured pebbles) for them to create their own design. We have over 30 already. They’ll be laid on either side of a pathway through lawn near the playground.
As we work on the first panel, there’s still a lot to find out, and many mistakes still to make and to overcome. Some of the materials are tricky to shape and some of the flowers will be difficult to reproduce. (Should probably have made them bigger…) Our approach will become more flexible as we develop greater expertise, and we’ll learn how to work effectively with groups as well as individuals.
Rough experimentation has started for one of the most intricate flowers
The last two panels will be very different in style from the first two... particularly as we’ve just had a brilliant suggestion from Marie Washbourne of collaborating with her to incorporate pottery pieces. Yess!
And if you know any artist out there who would like to contribute in any way to the drive to revitalise Glengarry through art, please, please get them to come along to the Art Space beside the Laundrette. They will be so very welcome!
What about the Big T shirt? Well, it’s on a back burner…but it will happen one day, definitely maybe!
A Review by Anna Claire Thompson: Lisa Justice Grace By Products of the Alcohol Years
BY-PRODUCTS OF THE ALCOHOL YEARS
Lisa Justice Grace at the Riverton Arts Centre
13 April to 6 May 2012
Lisa Justice Grace lays bare a "ripped, broken, burnt and torn" psyche in her art exhibition, By-Products of the Alcohol Years, open until May 6th at the Arts Centre in Riverton.
The sculpture stands out immediately. Lisa has taken domestic trappings and repurposed them as expressions of her frustration at the "dress code of life". Two ironing boards are attired in paint, builders' compound and leopard print fabric so that they will be useless for ironing. Instead they stand in for people who are dealing with relationships and addictions and and the roles they find themselves playing.
There is a dramatic table at the centre of the stage in the gallery. It's a work in progress in tribute to H.R. Geiger, a Swiss fantasy artist. It has been decoupaged with creepy baby faces and alien forms, with Lisa's signature ridges dividing the images. It's Lisa's work table, but I wonder what the table could be useful for? If you wrote at it, the ridges might be damaged. If you sat at it to eat, crumbs would lodge in the recesses. Maybe you dream at it? I would get nightmares.
Waiting on tiptoes around the edges to the room, the domestic sculpture is funny and quirky. An old beer fridge is full of the "demon drink" with modeled demon faces on the bottles. A vintage radio is poised for flight and a glass head in a case is wigged and collared with metal nuts. Nuts are used frequently as a pun and for the restrained rhythmic texture that is created when Lisa lines them up in rows and grids. One thinks of heavy metal music and steely glares in tough exteriors, Punk Rock culture and playing cool.
The silver and black merging, semi-gloss surfaces are key element of the sculpture in this exhibition. Lisa keeps the tones restrained so that nothing is entirely black or shining silver, perhaps a metaphor for the blurred realities of domesticity.
Unlike the furniture, the paintings appear to behave themselves. But up close you see that many are repeats of others, resized and twisted, and some have applied matt colour and have sculpted edges and borders. Drawings that Lisa made years ago struggle against their own flatness, lying in a folder on a table. They have been fulfilled to have a second, dynamic life on the walls of this gallery as the basis for the sculptured paintings. Faces laugh or stare blankly, each revealing a complex personality. Something blooms, in flower form but not so innocent, off centre of canvases in black and white or orderly colour schemes.
If the domestic sculpture is inventive and funny, and the paintings carefully delineated fantastical imagery, Lisa's poems are heavy with the By-Products of the Alchohol Years. They speak of loss and frustration, but she finds that this is more truthful than lives that "come complete with a Dyson". She celebrates a "Wild Swan" whose "lyrics are all wrong" and the cold, grimy environs of inner-city flats. There is joy too, in rain and in love.
Lisa has opened her heart up with this exhibition. The domestic sculpture could stand by itself as good fun, but when the exhibition is viewed as a whole with the poetry in mind it is weighted with a rawness that can be rare in the clever-clogs fine art world.
Is it Lisa's own psyche that is laid out for our examination in this exhibition? Or is the psyche of a sub-culture examined by one who knows it from experience? Or is it a story about the undercurrents of New Zealand's society?
The last poem in Lisa's book, Dress Code of Life, is an apt summation of By-Products of the Alcohol Years. The poet feels that her persona is not "suitably dressed" and that she doesn't want to "open [her] heart", but I'm glad she did. It's "far more truthful".
*References in quotation marks are from Lisa's poetry book, of the same title as the exhibition, for sale at the gallery.
Anna Claire Thompson
Anna Claire Art Jewellerywww.annaclaire.co.nz
Anna Claire Thompson: "Doomed Timber" Review
Doomed Timber - at the Eastern Southland Gallery, on until October 24th 2011.
In four hours in 1885, blacksmith Robert Cockerell's 'Forest Giant' tree puller and stump extractor tore out six large rimu trees from the former Seaward Bush. This would have previously taken two bushmen two weeks. The huge expanse of Southland's Seaward Bush was doomed.
Paul Star's historical essay about the subjugation of the original Seaward Bush, first published in 2005, was the impetus for sculptor and jeweller Steven Mulqueen to gather eleven other artists to utilize the forest in a gentler way than Robert Cockerell. David Luoni, currently a Master's student of Museum and Heritage Studies, was called upon to curate the response of the twelve artists to Paul's essay and their own research.
To most Southlanders the scraggly 104 hectares of bush to the east of Invercargill is Seaward Bush. The exhibition "Doomed Timber", on now at the Eastern Southland Galllery, tells us about the vast Seaward Bush encountered by Southland's first European settlers. This was energetically milled to supply the contemporary needs of farmland, housing and warmth. Remnants were often burned in a effort to assert man's dominance over this new landscape. Although the subject matter is melancholy, the artists involved in "Doomed Timber" bring back the ghosts of the forest in surprisingly dynamic ways.
Ramonda Te Maiharoa and Jane Zusters have both employ modern photographic collage techniques to produce lively commentaries on our built environment enjoyed today, as a result of our recent history. Jane has also included some items once common in Kiwi households with examples of New Zealand's native timber inlaid as a decorative and educational feature. These little inlays seem now to be a trivial celebration of the giants of the primeval forest.
Andrew Ross's silver gelatin photographic print is a sinister portrayal of a disused sawmill. Great toothed blades sink into shadow, sheltered by wooden beams and wallboards that those sawblades could have cut themselves. On the cover of the exhibition catalogue is another of Ross' photographs. The fringe of the modern Seaward Bush leans away from the wind and the presses of agriculture. No big trees are present.
Ralph Lawrence and Deborah Barton call on traditions of clothing and home decor to speak of the men who cut the trees. Lawrence's appliquéd gang patch, reading "Lawrence Brothers, Oteramika", with a saw blade and a heraldic lion, declares an attitude of pride and comradeship that might have been asserted by the Lawrence family in their business based at Oteramika, or by sawmillers at their work.
Barton has hand colored woodblock prints to make a wallpaper with a pattern of saw blades, timber cottages, lone trees and men. The wallpaper is like that which would have covered rough hewn timber planks on many settler walls. Facing Barton's work, across the room, are historical survey maps of the blocks released to bushmen and settlers. These were colored in on the map by Department of Lands staff as they were were sold off. Barton's paper sheets are stamped across the surface of the wall like the blocks in the maps. The pattern of cutting timber, burning remnants and sowing grass was repeated to the end of the forest.
Two large Rimu door frames dominate one wall in the Eastern Southland Gallery. Sue Awunor-Renner has filled these with oil paintings of what it took from the land to make them. In front of these is a quieter memorial. Ruth Myers has cast bits of wood from the remaining Seaward Reserve in paper, a parched, neatly positioned piece of dead forest laid out for our meditation. Like Barton's wallpaper panels, this also references the blocks of bush plotted out by surveyors.
Another meditative group of works are in ceramic by Irene Schroder. Two stump forms curve around their own whispered history, a history shared by the soil and topography of the land. A third piece lays flat, deeply scarred by barbed wire.
The variety of media and artistic practices represented in "Doomed Timber" are supplemented by Bob Simpson's architectural drawings of 'Ellesland', the homestead of Captain Andrew J Elles in the then township of Seaward Bush, later renamed South Invercargill. Of very different style of drawing are Peter Belton's fantastical woodland creatures and objects, spinning and bouncing among the ruins of a forest floor. Also visually dynamic are David Shennan's series of five acrylic paintings in shades of grey. They are an abstracted narrative of what has become of the forest. Starting with two calm panels, the middle panel features a thin line of distant flame, then there is a panel dominated by smoke. The series ends with a futuristic vision of skyscraper forms emerging from the fumes of doomed timber.
Steven Mulqueen's 'Kuri Guide Dog' boldly rolls on railway tracks out from a large historical photograph. Imaged is an apocalyptic scene, the bush has been vanquished by the railway, leaving burnt stumps and mud. The Kuri (dog), made from the shapes and materials used in railway tracks, has a D-link at it's neck, ready to lead or be led to what lies beyond.
"Doomed Timber" is supplemented by a catalogue with an introduction by curator David Luoni and a page each to the artists with a brief biography and a explanation of the artist's work. It also features an abridged version of Paul Star's essay, which informs every artwork in the exhibition. Copies of the catalogue have been distributed to Southland schools and libraries as a means of education in local history and hopefully in art.
I applaud Stephen Mulqueen for his initiative in forming "Doomed Timber". It is an exhibition that is interesting and relevant to Southland's locals, and has been an opportunity for individual artists to develop their own practices. Southland would do well to have more artist and curator driven initiatives such as this.
Anna Claire Thompson: Reflections on "Spatial Reflections"
"Spatial Reflections" is a successful exhibition in which the artists have had their boundaries pushed by exhibition co-ordinator Irene Schroder. It opened Friday the 26 August to a good turn out and a celebratory atmosphere. "Spatial Reflections" is testimony to the activity and growth, on an individual and community level, of the visual arts in the Great South.
For her part in "Spatial Reflections", Dawn Barry has explored a space of time and distance in her family history. After researching her ancestors grueling settlement in Pegasus Bay, Rakiura, she travelled there in 2006 in relative luxury. The paintings that she is showing narrate these differing experiences. She also depicts the natural beauty of the place. Some paintings along the far side of the wall present three panels floating in the space of a frame that stands out around the composition. Dawn uses acrylic paint with expressionistic oil pastel marks glistening over the surface of the hills to enthralling effect.
In recent years Jill Nicholls has moved from weaving to a ceramics practice, informed by her earlier life as a geologist. This exhibition is the first time she has exhibited as a potter. Her clay sculptures in the centre of the room have been offered up as if from the earth itself, unaware of their maker. The most dynamic of these is "Elder Standing Stone", a form bent like a wave. Jill tells me that during its firing, she was horrified to see through the peep-hole in her kiln this piece, originally formed straight, collapsing over onto another smaller piece. Two days later, when the kiln had cooled down, she picked the two pieces up and instead of being irretrievably damaged, they parted easily. "Pivotal Standing Stone", the unintentional support for "Elder Standing Stone" is glazed in yellow displayed in the the exhibition too. In contrast to Jill's sculptural work there is an elegant series of carefully crafted paper clay vessels that show marine and botanical forms.
John Wishart is not in his usual medium with his large framed photographs. The two photographs, framed in white and hanging side-by-side, offer windows into an outside space. Pictured are two halves of a cast that John has used in his more familiar sculpture practice. They sit in still water, in an inter-tidal zone. Clouds are reflected on the water, sitting in the cupped space between the casting shells. John is known for his sculptural work, but has learned photography from his time at Elam Art School. These assured images are testimony to his skill as an artist.
Stuart King has installed a conceptual workshop space in the far bay of the gallery. A solid workbench and tools are painted white, existing only as ideas, their history as functional tools exorcized. On the bench are small steel marquettes. One is a book form, it's pages rippled by an invisible hand. Another is a set of steel plates, lined up, that have been pummeled outwards by some unknown force. Others bend and wave through space, seeking to increase in size and impact.
Stuart is showing some startlingly beautiful figurative drawings in this exhibition too. Two figures are precisely placed on the picture plane, their yellow forms outlined in black.
Glowing in a dark corner are Phil Newbury's starfish forms. Cast glass arms stretch out from crystal-cut bowls, illuminated by LEDs in green, blue and red. The starfish are evenly placed, as if laid out for examination. Phil told me that real starfish don't have brains. His mutations, however, do. They seem to have a collective consciousness that fizzes about the space among them. I imagine these starfish have been exposed to a mysterious toxin and are coming to life. The tips of some of their arms are splitting, as they threaten to reproduce and take over the world.
On now at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, in the Community Gallery, on until 25th September 2011.
Anna Claire Thompson:
How I Feel about Nigel Brown's "Never Give Up" Painting On Show in the Travel To Travel Exhibition at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery
How I Feel about Nigel Brown's "Never Give Up" Painting On Show in the Travel To Travel Exhibition at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery
The central figure and heroic words in Nigel Brown's painting "Never Give Up" tell of adventure and bravado in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. The action in the background, and a figure off to the side, tell the true story of hardship encountered by Ernest Shackleton's epic of endurance in Antarctic waters from 1914 to 1917.
Brown's signature text arcs around the top and the bottom of the two-and-a-half meter wide painting, framing a rhythmic composition of sea, sky, icebergs and human activity. The text above speaks encouragement to the members of the expedition, and the text below expresses the awe of the Antarctic environment. A central figure, presumably Shackleton, holds a rope in a classic adventurer pose. His face is not clear and he is cheered on by a crowd below him. Behind this man, in a jumble of jagged ice, are various sea craft on precarious leans and a bulldozer hanging off a cliff. The ice certainly holds the balance of power, despite the dreams of Shackleton and his backers.
A thick gold sky containing a strange sun curves through the composition. The sun's light reflects onto the chilly blues, grays and whites of the composition. This, along with the yellow ground that is apparent between Brown's expressionistic brush marks, balances the frigidity of the landscape and melancholy of the narrative.
A figure to the left of the central character is telling as to the reality of what Shackleton's team experienced. His countenance is clear and faces straight out to the viewer. A frostbitten blue shines on his brown skin. He is exhausted. I feel his pain.
Brown completed this work after a trip to Antarctica on the inaugural Artists to Antarctica Scheme in in 1998. He writes in the catalogue that is available for purchase at the Southland Museum: "Antarctica was intriguing as a place without an indigenous culture where various explorers such as Hillary, Scott and Shackleton still loom large in huts and literature."
The artist's expert treatment of paint makes for a stunning piece of art. His skill in color juxtaposition and composition is completed by an absorbing narrative. Go see it.
A respone to Wayne Hill's Inland Exhibition, Fusion Gallery and Studio
On Friday Night, 18 March, 2011 Wayne gave an artist's talk at Fusion Gallery and Studio, Lumsden, with his customary bare feet and wearing a T-shirt that has a dollar sign crossed out. He read a poem about surfing and it's relation to everything else, and reflected on his life and art so far. Outside are three strange driftwood forms, two tall birds and another teasing one of the birds with rope on a long stick. Wayne is beautifully humble and real. Knowing the man is valuable to an appreciation of his work.
Wayne explores a variety of media in "Inland", his latest exhibition. It includes photography, a painted surfboard, found object assemblages, Oamaru stone carving, and canvas paintings in a myriad of forms. The painting as an object is central to Wayne's work. His are never flat images that happen to be hung on a wall, everything he makes is well-considered as a three-dimensional object. Many of his paintings in this exhibition are framed on two or three sides, but there is no sense of part being missing. Instead, the open space beside the painting is a welcome to the rest of the world to be part of the artwork.
Wayne credits his father and teachers at school, including Jim Gilmore, for opening his eyes to what he could do with art.
The series of works entitled: "A Series of September's Snow" makes a striking composition on the wall of one of Fusion's back rooms. They are stylized images of the snow falling on the sea that have been neatly, but not necessarily traditionally framed. The pictures look chilly and serene, lined up so that the horizon line in the six works is continuous.
"Judith" is a black painted canvas in a roughly hemispherical shape with an intense blue emerging from the crux, which then delicately tip-toes over the black. Putting my eye to the wall to peer at the back of it, I found the canvas to be stretched over long pieces of driftwood. A curious combination, but a Wayne Hill thing: to subvert an appearance of cool and smooth with a rawness and honesty of material.
A pair of interesting wall-hung objects are an example of Wayne's connection to the elements. "Anytime Somewhere You Want It To Be" are two long three-dimensional stylized scenes, one of sea and one of land, that are layers of undulating wave and hill forms treated in sandy-textured blues and greens. These sit exactly half-way between sculpture and painting, demonstrating Wayne's disregard of traditional artistic genres. They also are framed on the sides and bottom, but not the top. Like Wayne, they are both grounded and open.
Many people will have been following the story of Wayne's constructions in the Riverton Estuary and their active resistance from a few individuals. This saga is continuing, at present a resource consent for Wayne's artworks is soon to be opened to the public for submission, and if anyone opposes it, it will cost Wayne $2000. All proceeds from sales at "Inland" to the Red Cross Canterbury Earthquake Appeal. On ya Wayne.
Wayne is also scheduled to be an artist in Residence also on Saturday the 26th of March, and hopes as many people as possible come to see him while he is there. The gallery is also planning to be open on other days during the exhibition, people interested on viewing the collection on days outside the opening hours may book by appointment by calling.
"Inland" runs from the 19th until the 3rd of April, Saturdays 10 am - 3 pm and Sundays 11am - 2 pm. On Saturday the 26th of March Wayne will be present at the gallery and will be pleased to talk to all comers. Private viewings can also be arranged outside of these times by calling Michelle Wallis on 03 248 7910 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How active is the Southland arts scene and how does it operate? Is it fair to ask an artist who chooses to NOT participate?
Thank you to Anna Thompson for posting this on our forum page. If you wish to participate in the discussion online, you will need to "join" this site (free).
Thank you to Anna Thompson for posting this on our forum page. If you wish to participate in the discussion online, you will need to "join" this site (free).
3. How active is your local arts scene and how does it operate?
Nigel Brown: I didn't come here for the local art scene and haven't the time to focus on it. Southland is a difficult environment from which to establish yourself because of a predominant amateurism and lack of critical standards. However you have access to major landscape areas like Fiordland. Having the Riverton Arts Centre provides some life. At present I am organising a major show with the Southland museum which is heartening after ten years with nothing. A few artists such as Johnny Penisula give Southland substance and we have our own Hodges!
In other responses he explained that "time, dealer obligation and economics" are against his exhibiting locally, and explained that he chooses to live where he does because of the space, geography and proximity to the sea.
What do you think? Is he right?
I've emailed (and posted on the forum) the following response to the Art All article to Maggie Gresson, Executive Director and Managin Editor of Artists Alliance, the parent organisation publishing the magazine. I believe we have every reason to be proud of our arts scene. Read and let us know if you agree. Beverly Claridge Webmaster of GSAN site.
Nigel Brown’s comments in the latest ArtAll are certainly disappointing, if not puzzling. No doubt Mr. Brown is highly esteemed in the wider New Zealand art circle, as he is here.
It is with no small amount of pride that Southlanders often boast about Nigel Brown living quietly in his Cosy Nook enclave. He is a son of Southland...Invercargill born! To be sure, he spent most of his life elsewhere, but, he came home...and we like that. No doubt, Brown enjoys the peace and quiet that we always give celebrities who visit here and who choose to live and work in our unique and beautiful province.
I find it puzzling, however, his claims of the “predominant amateurism and lack of critical standards in Southland” as stated in the latest issue of ArtAll. When I survey the visual artists I personally know, I am amazed at their professionalism and their standards.
Indeed, Johnny Penisula, as Brown mentioned, is a tremendously talented and humble sculptor and artist of whom we are immensely proud, especially because he integrates into our local art scene when not busy with his humanitarian efforts in the Pacific islands. Then there’s glass sculptor Phil Newbury, so busy with international and national exhibitions, who made time in his busy schedule to hold a magnificent display in the lush Beersheba Estate gardens in east Invercargill. Sculptor and greenstone expert Russell Beck, also of national and international renown, has recently had a book Pounamu published featuring his expertise on stone. He willingly shares his knowledge with locals as well. Bronze sculptor Roddy McMillan keeps his foundry fires continually stoked in an effort to keep up with demand. To my reckoning, Stuart King, in his final year at the Southern Institute of Technology(SIT), is noteworthy, especially with his expertise from years of practical engineering before pursuing his passion for contemporary art, and his willingness to be involved here. Venturing more recently into the sculptural art arena in the south are Rae Baxter and Rhonda Hall. These women, who for years have travelled the world studying sculpture parks and design, recently presented A Walk on the Wild Side in Winton’s reserve park.
Award-winning painter and sculptor John Wishart, has had works in the COCA in Christchurch. Similarly, Irene Schroeder has shown her challenging non-functional clay sculpture at COCA as well as other venues. Schroeder, a native Southlander, returned to her home after a prolific career overseas as curator and gallery owner to serve as assistant curator of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery. She has been a welcome addition to our culture. Jill Nichols, who has travelled worldwide studying with master potters, formerly maintained a large weaving study, and served at the Christchurch Gallery in a curatorial capacity, before realising a long held dream of hers. That of opening a beautiful shop featuring expert work from top applied visual artists, including Southlanders, fabric and textile artist, Dawn Malloy, and artist jeweller, Anna Claire Thompson. Thompson, who has gallery representation in Wellington and Dunedin, was invited to participate in A New Line, the poem and jewellery exhibition last year in Dunedin during Fashion Week. Riverton also has award-winning Chris Flavell whose artwork is now on display in the Netherlands. Oh, and we can’t forget veteran artist, John Husband, who curates the grand and stately Anderson Park Art Gallery. The Eastern Southland Gallery is the envy of many national and regional galleries with its John Money collection of international and New Zealand art.
Wayne Hill, with his wonderful driftwood creations, has definitely expanded discourse about the arts in the area with his estuary exhibitions. Another person to watch is Lisa Grace, who manages the Riverton Arts Centre. I look forward to see a much anticipated solo exhibition of hers that has been postponed because she is so busy promoting the arts in Riverton.
Award-winning, Maree Beker, who exhibits widely, has been featured by invitation in, New Zealand Gallery by Denis Robinson. He has asked her to be in his next book as well. She and her husband work very hard in their iconic Pukeko Studio Gallery in stunningly beautiful Fortrose at the Southern gateway to the Catlins. Jim Gilmore, responsible for helping launch the careers of Janice Gill and many more during his years of arts tutoring, is an innovator in his Otatara studio in the midst of his beloved native bush. His award winning kinetic sculpture and very textural and quirky, Mobius-esque paintings of imagined space stalking machines are wonderful and fuel the imagination and delight the heart. Judith Lane Ewing in Northern Southland, Wallace Keown of TeAnau, Wayne Edgerton of Tuatapere, Tony Bishop of Nightcaps. If you’ve not heard of these folks, I invite you to Google them. They’re all making a living from their art. And, I’d like to think I’m joining the ranks myself. I invite you to check out my website and form your own opinion.
I’m mindful of making a list such as this, as I’m sure to leave people out. I apologise to these hard working folks. Even as I’m typing this very paragraph, I can think of others that I would definitely consider being at a professional level. Then, there are scores of others who no doubt might be considered amateurs by those in Brown’s league, but who work very hard to keep body and soul together on a daily basis, whilst striving to be the best artist they can be. To join that elusive status of being a highly regarded, well-known artist is a real dream of many so-called amateurs, even here in the Great South.
Last year we formed a network for artists wanting to increase professionalism in the visual arts here, and to raise awareness of visual arts in the general public called the Great South Artists’ Network. Our inaugural event, The 2010 Art Lover’s Luncheon featured Dunedin’s Janet DeWagt, who claims Tae Wae Wae Bay to be her spiritual home. We were joined in that event by Johnny Penisula along with 11 other artists who aspire to a great degree of artistic professionalism. That venture was so successful that Kay Ward and her team are doing it again this year. We’ve added a fun “Funky Chicken” event to stir up the imagination of the community as well for the upcoming 2011 Southland Festival of the Arts. We publish a weekly newsletter and website of the events and opinions of visual art events in the Great South. Venture Southland and other civic entities also hosted the first Southland Arts Conference, which was well attended by artists from nearly all disciplines from many parts of the nation. The point is we DO have an arts scene down in the Great South. Indeed, Artist Alliance has been instrumental in helping establish the network of which I speak.
I don’t think there is a serious artist in the Great South who wouldn’t welcome some kind of interaction with Nigel Brown. Many conversations have arisen between artists here about gathering up the gumption to phone him or to approach him in his Cosy Nook home. I, indeed, consider it a privilege to have been able to meet Mr. Brown briefly at one of the Riverton Art Centre events. However, as he states in the ArtAll article, he does not have time to mingle with the locals due to his art schedule and maintaining his lifestyle property. And, as always, we Southlanders respect his wishes.
Mr. Brown, of course, is welcome to his opinion. And, I still have the greatest regard for his accomplishments and his work, no matter his thoughts. However, if he is unable to participate in our arts culture down here, for whatever reason, is he the person to be queried as to what kind of arts scene is down here? Why not ask any of the other highly regarded artists mentioned here. Should Nigel Brown decide to change his stance on involvement with our arts community, I’m sure we’ll welcome him with open arms. If he chooses not to, well, we’ll still keep on striving to be the best arts community possible.
Many kind regards,
Co-founder of Great South Artists’ Network
Janet de Wagt - Vocation Location - A response by Anna Claire Thompson
I admire the confidence it takes to paint with such vigor. Janet's colours are fresh and raw, a true record of Southland's bright light. The exhibition as a whole is a happy experience, celebrating air, space and the wildness of our locality.
Janet's favourite is "Young Beach Trees, Rowallan Road". She is pleased with her achievement in painting well this tricky subject matter. The difficulty of depicting this densely-spaced forest can be well imagined by standing in front of the canvas, which is over two metres tall. She completed it by using her truck as an easel and a step stool.
In their own space to the side of the exhibition are four more large canvases with striking portraits of local people in the land which means so much to both them and Janet. These paintings are dominated by many-times life size portraits such as "Mary Sharpe on Location at Waiau River, Clifden Down South". In this painting, Mary is a rock like the cliffs behind her, staunch in her place as part of long lineage of settlers in the area.
"Barry McDonald of Prizewinning Torresdale Stud" is a humorous portrait of Barry with his prizewinning bull's medal around his neck. Who is the stud here? Janet has stenciled a bull outline rhythmically over the painting, blending it subtly in and out of the background.
In commemoration of the centenary of schooling in the Te Waewae area are two long unstretched and eyeletted canvases with views of Monkey Island and Bluecliffs. The long format is ideal for the wide-view subject matter, and the loose canvas seems fitting for the occasion of celebrating history.
Long may Janet de Wagt have her vocation on location in the Western Southland landscape, reminding us why we love this place.
Jill Nicholls: Review of Jane McCulla works as guest artist at Anderson Park Spring Exhibition
Guest artist Anderson Park Gallery Invercargill.
October 2nd – 25th
I was delighted when I heard that Jane McCulla would be showing her ceramic sculpture in Anderson Park and congratulate those responsible for inviting her as a guest artist. Jane has become a New Zealand resident after moving here from her native Ireland. She is highly qualified and exhibits in many prestigious galleries both in New Zealand and overseas. A welcome breath of fresh artistic air in our part of the world!
The nine works shown here are part of a series reflecting Jane’s engagement with exploring her natural environment and processes which impact on it. Her notes tell us that she has spent many hours experimenting and studying the effects of such aspects as tide, wind and time as well as man’s marks on the earth’s surface.
The form Jane has moulded is reminiscent of ancient Asian temple gates and Celtic structures yet could also be that of a canal barge. The addition of human made precise ‘metal’ fittings makes a wonderful counterpoint to her subtle surface treatments.
The unusual glaze that Jane has developed enhances this richly worked surface which has motifs derived from both historical and modern sources. Soft aqua traces with warm honey coloured exposed clay on a background of matt soft white, hints at artefact and tradition yet these are intrinsically modern works. I found the effect made compelling viewing.
I was however concerned at the unimaginative mounting of these very special pieces. Jane’s thoughtful interpretation of the natural landscape and man’s mark on it embodies great artistry and I feel it deserves a more sympathetic and appropriate showing.
Perhaps the plinths could have been placed in a more open part of the room and well lit, giving the viewer the opportunity to see the works as the sculptural art that they are, rather than as ornaments placed, as some were, on a window sill or sideboard where only a portion of each could be considered.
I would be interested to hear from other members who have an opinion on the above.
Jill Nicholls Riverton
Gwen Chaloner: Review of A Birdseye View - Janet De Wagt
Riverton Arts Centre until October 31
Fans will be familiar with de Wagt’s iconic shapes including hearts, state houses, cars and caravans. She now introduces Toroa, the Royal Albatross, which are her biggest and best shapes so far. The seascapes painted onto the bodies and wings of these tremendous birds are like a reflection of the ocean below; you get a real feeling of soaring with the birds above the waves. There are also ghostly cut outs of the birds stencilled over the sea around Blue Cliffs, which give a real sense of their isolation, of the months they spend at sea; they are part of the land-seascape but separate, spirits of the sea perhaps? De Wagt feels an affinity with these birds, travelling all over, as she does, but always returning to the same place, her spiritual home.
Less serious, “Barflies” are a new venture for de Wagt. These cut-outs are a sardonic look at our drinking culture. Playful use of feminine lace prints to represent masculine textiles questions sexual and social status while hidden glasses leave us wondering what they might be drinking, draught beer or cocktails?
From birds and flies to other winged objects, de Wagt’s cut-outs of Spitfires are enigmatic shapes, familiar to visitors at the Warbirds over Wanaka air shows. Clever placement, of different views of the planes’ underbellies, evoke the dog fights that earned them their wartime reputation. The prints on these cut-outs are diverse, camouflage colours overlaid with delicate lace patterns, a flax kite here, a flower there, but most interestingly, the circular shapes on the wings are reminiscent of both the red, white and blue RAF icon and also the ‘eyes’ on butterfly wings which evolved to scare off predators. Another new cut-out shape is the Charger, which I predict will be snapped up by art loving petrol heads, and I’m sure there are some out there, while the more sedate retro cars and caravans will take baby boomers back to the summer holidays of their childhood.
De Wagt’s “wide skinnies” are her stock in trade and much sought after. Her expressive use of brilliant blues and verdant greens may seem over the top to lovers of quieter, more traditional landscapes, but visitors and locals alike will have seen such dynamic colours in the sea and paddocks along the Southern Scenic route, if only momentarily, as southern gales chase huge clouds across the sun. In “Storm coming, storm here, from Gemstone Beach”, de Wagt successfully captures the essence of the south with her bold, wide brush strokes, grand statements worthy of the time and place. Further afield, de Wagt paints on location at Lake Dunstan, and in a departure from birds, flies and planes, she stencils cattle beast cut-outs over the man-made lake, a wry comment perhaps, on man’s ability to change the natural environment for his own economic benefit. Janet de Wagt’s latest body of work is not to be missed and she will be giving an artist’s talk on Saturday, October 30th at 2pm at the Riverton Arts Centre.
Kay Ward Review - Precocious, Provocative and Precious
Stunning metal sculptural art works by nine local artists are now on display in this exhibition at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery until 12th September. Some pieces are wearable, others beg to be touched and stroked while others are thought provoking.
Jim Gilmore has surrounded stones from various local islands in beautifully crafted bronze wire cages reminiscent of animal skeletons. Stuart King’s larger sculptures of mild steel and schist with their strong shapes and design showcase the strength of the medium used. Local jeweller, Russell Coats’ pendant Southland Sunset is stunning in sterling silver, 9 ct gold, fire opal and paua. He has also created other adornments and sculptural pieces. His engraved poem on sterling silver plate while beautifully crafted has a sombre message for the viewer.
Russell Sutherland’s sterling silver handmade chain and forged pendant is very sculptural and begs to be worn. Odd earrings, one a sterling silver lock and the other its key make one smile. As well as rings and bangles Russell has crafted a beautiful free flowing amoebic wall piece in sterling silver and paua.
Our very own Anna Claire Thompson’s collection of brooches bearing her distinctive sterling silver encasing stones and sand set in polyester resin are all the more exquisite for being named after the places they were found. With some also including landscapes in silver they are very special. Another very special little sculpture by Anna Claire is A Drawer for Keeping Your Secrets In, a beautifully balanced sterling silver drawer on tall elegant legs.
Anna Claire Thompson: A Drawer for Keeping Your Secrets In
Roddy McMillan who works in wood has cast two pieces in bronze. His Wagon Wreck is particularly detailed and along with Wall Street Crash are thought provoking as one considers what prompted him to choose these subjects.
Nathan Jerry’s intricately carved stones of Jasper, Andesite, Argillite, Bowenite and Pounamu are testament to his knowledge and experience in traditional Maori carving with their beautiful koru designs. The smoothness of these stones is alluring and demand to be touched and stroked.
Johnny Penisula has two stunningly beautifully crafted carved art works in this exhibition. One is Woman Carrying Taro of Mangaia lime stone from the Cook Islands and shows the versatility of this stone. It has been left in its natural state in parts of the sculpture and in others it has been highly polished and carved. The other piece is Warrior’s Pendant crafted from black Argillite, pearl shell and sterling silver. Johnny’s Cook Island artistic heritage and willingness to share and inspire is apparent in his work.
Russell Beck whose speciality is creating sculptures of all sizes is showing three small modern pieces made from cast stainless steel, and machined titanium. These pieces are robust and stunning in their simplicity. His fourth piece is a more traditional fish beautifully carved from Nephrite Jade from Vitim River in Siberia.
This exhibition Precocious. Provocative. Precious showcases our local sculptors in a dramatically spot lit, well-designed layout in the Community Gallery at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery and is not to be missed. It is on until 12 September.
Anna Claire Thompson: Mirek Smisek 60 Years-60 Pots
You can see sixty years of fine craftsmanship upstairs at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery in the work of Mirek Smisek. 60 Years, 60 Pots is Smisek's first career retrospective exhibition. It comprises of eight large bowls, four big crocks, and forty-eight smaller vases, jugs, bowls and tea-bowls.
Smisek uses clay from the ground around where he lives and fires it in kilns he has made. Potters tell us that to achieve good results, one must work with the clay, not against it. Making good pottery, in Smisek's words "needs deep involvement, feeling for materials, understanding of firing, sincere dedication and discipline." Everything about these pots is honest. Nothing is fancy or contrived in Smisek's forms and surface decoration.
One of the cabinets contains eight Japanese tea-bowls (yunomi), one goblet, one small green bowl, and three vases made while Smisek was working at Crown Lynn Pottery. Smisek made the green bowl in 1949, it is the earliest piece in the exhibition and stands out with its vivid green surface. The drinking vessels in the cabinet date from the 1970's through to 2008. They reach out to the viewer and beg to be used. I resent the museum's barrier preventing me from touching, holding, possessing one of these cups. Their shiny, subtly formed surfaces and rhythmic textures would be perfect filled with a hot Milo and cradled in my cold hands.
Gateway Into the World, made in 2009, is fascinating. I can feel in my imagination pinching and pushing the curves of this bowl into its elegant squared shape. But then its precise form melts into the opaque white snow glaze, and I am no longer sure where the surface actually is.
The only work that shows a spontaneous vigor is a large wall-hung bowl titled The Beginning, with a dark red burst of glaze on the night-sky blue of the bowl's interior. The gritty natural texture of the clay shows though the glaze, creating pinpoints of reflected light.
Pieces number 61 and 62 stand separate from the body of the exhibition, prototypes of a tankard and jug made for "Lord of the Rings" movies. Smisek was passionate about the project. He researched medieval pottery extensively and produced around 700 pieces for the L.O.T.R. movies. To read more about this, see http://www.lordoftherings.net/legend/lands/bree/pott_int.html.
Smisek was born in Czechoslovakia in 1925. When his country was overrun by the Germans he spent most of World War II in prisons and labour camps. After the war he emigrated to Australia, where he first took night-classes in pottery. He moved to New Zealand in 1951. The three "Bohemia Ware" vases on display in this exhibition were made in the after-hours of his day job as a designer at Crown Lynn Potteries, Smisek's first employment in New Zealand. Since then he became New Zealands' first full-time Studio Potter and has studied overseas with Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada. Smisek draws on his craft for personal healing after his experiences in WWII. He has said: "Many of the problems of the contemporary world will be minimised if creative activity becomes part of all our lives."
60 years, 60 Pots, although a career retrospective exhibition, is not set out in chronological order. His honest, earthy vessels sit resolute in their own integrity. You can try to trace evolution in Smiseks' style though time but this is not easy to do. A relaxed wave is evident in most of his pieces. In later works it moves from the surface to the actual form of the pot.
Mirek Smisek won an O.B.E. for his services to New Zealand Pottery in 1990. He is still living in the Kapiti Coast, making heartfelt, graceful pots at the age of 84.
A generation ago in 1987,
With Pat Hanly’s anti-nuclear paintings and Gil Hanly’s documentary photographs, Lopdell House hopes to engage an audience of all ages and tell a very New Zealand story of the power of art to move hearts and minds. Visitors can also view the fascinating documentary No Nukes is Good Nukes made by Claudia Pond Eyley in 2007.
At first glance, Hanly’s use of bright, happy colours that sing and shout at you seems a bizarre way of drawing our attention to such a dark subject. His paintings make you feel good even when they were trying to alert people to the doom and destruction of nuclear weapons. One work is monochromatic, a gestural ink on paper drawing of two nuclear submarines surrounded by a flotilla of protest boats, but the scribbly, ink splashed doodles look like a war zone.
In the 1960s, Hanly painted in protest of the cold war and the continued testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific. When the bombs went off at Moruroa Atoll, many people in
In his work Hanly uses boats, bomb blasts, and fiery colours against clear blue sea or sky backgrounds. In the 1970s he turned to silk screen printing and a simpler, more symbolic style, using the clean lines of the printing process to make his statement. In the 1980s the artist’s “fire” series, Awake Aotearoa, was his war cry. He desperately wanted New Zealand to wake up to the nuclear threat. These large oil, and oil and enamel paintings, with their boats and bomb blasts, scream for attention. On a quieter theme are generic Gauginesque figures sitting cross legged and contemplating, amidst islands, palm trees and pop art bomb blast icons.
The enigmatic photographs of Gil Hanly show us protest marchers and protest flotillas in Auckland harbour and the arrival of The Rainbow Warrior. Many of the bright, young and enthusiastic faces in these photos are familiar to us, now MPs with social justice still on their agendas.
Watching the accompanying video it was strange and haunting to view archival film and listen to the protesters of the time relive their involvement. It’s hard to believe that three decades have passed, but The Rainbow Warrior incident is still fresh in our collective memories. We may now take for granted our nuclear free status, but this exhibition reminds us it took a huge, determined effort by thousands of ordinary Kiwis headed by a strong group of dedicated anti-nuclear activists. Who knows, the artist may be looking down on us now, shaking his paint covered finger and warning us not to get complacent.
Chris T Wilkie's Exhibition "Deep Water, Haunted Land" is an apt title for his show of paintings just finished at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery. This exhibition stirs up the wonder I feel at the early settlers who eked out a life in a very wild land.
The Artist is very skillful in his rendition of light. The painting "Around the Bend (North of West Arm)" depicts bright beams of sunlight rising over a mountain, piecing the morning mist and bouncing off the water. This is so effective that I instinctively did not at first look directly at the sun in the painting!
Around half of the works in this exhibition are of people are rendered on damaged, worn canvases that evoke the fading memories of those who once settled there. Wilkie has deliberately partially scorched some of his paintings. They resemble old, damaged photographs that show people, real people, but who are no longer known as such. Three of the works are triptychs consisting of a landscape, beautiful but wild, the side of an old wooden crate, and people fading and disappearing into the past. From a distance the paintings of people appear to be black-and-white photographs, but on approaching close up I could see Wilkie's subtle brushstrokes and the layering of impasto stains and patina.
The painting of "Old Dore (Burnt Offerings)" is the only portrait in which some of the personality of the sitter is apparent, yet his visage is distorted with the hardship and loneliness of his life as a settler in his hostile environment. "Edith and Baby" is of a white-painted, unstained baby whose skin contrasts with that of her mother, not elderly but fading and being forgotten. I wonder if the baby is still alive in the memory of some whereas no-one is alive now who remembers Edith?
A sense of the sacred was immediately apparent upon viewing Gina van Wichen's "Raising Faith" installation in the SIT Arcade, presently showing. I encountered the exhibition knowing that it had something to do with her time studying with Colin McCahon and the landscape she was in at the time. I think that if I had known nothing about the installation or the artist this content would be apparent.
The landforms framing the cross in two of Gina's paintings are an obvious McCahon reference, but Gina contrasts this with a curious sparkly treatment of the crosses, possibly an allusion to influences of past and present in Gina's artistic practice.
Gina utilizes a variety of mediums and techniques in her paintings, one that I think may be coloured pencil echoes the cross form but in a different format. In this crosses are through a window, then the shape is repeated in shadows curving over some oranges in a fruit bowl.
Drawing us back through time is a painting resembling an orthodox icon, with two chalices placed in front of it. Very much at home in this untouchable gallery setting (the door is locked, we may only view the paintings through the glass frontage of the space) this arrangement possibly refers to the far-distant history of the artist and her art, but establishes it as relevant in her contemporary practice.
Reading like a story about the Artist's practice and philosophy, we come to three expressionistic-style landscapes. Most striking is a painting with land, mountains and a yellow sky with a dynamic movement that can only be described as divine. Gina, in common with McCahon, sees and shows heavenly meaning in her local landscape, using her skillful painting and intriguing narrative showcased in this installation.
While not an exhibition, this art work by Richard Killeen has been brought out of storage and hung opposite the entrance to Nic Moon's installation, courtesy of Gael Ramsay and the museum staff. This was at my request so that the art classes at James Hargest College could use it as part of their study of Pacific Art. Viewing this art work was an enlightening experience for my students as they had seen a photograph of it in an art book for children. Seeing the real thing 'up close and personal' was great. The art work is a collection of aluminium cut outs which can be arranged however the owner wishes. It depicts flora and fauna of the South Pacific in black and some man made symbols of a mask, weapon and totem in red. Some symbols provoked discussion as we considered whether a mushroom shape could be symbolic of the nuclear testing which took place in the Pacific. It is worth a look .
These mostly circular and geometric designs in Gouache and mixed media are reminiscent of Mondrian and Escher concentrating as they do on pattern. I could see some inspiration for embroidery in some of these works. Olwyn Dykes has a great eye for design and colour. Several are striking in black and white with either subtle colouring or vibrantly contrasting colours added. My favourite pieces are 'Mostly Circles No 4' ,a segmented black and white bulls eye with flowing shapes in two quarters in gold and red, and also the very striking 'Mostly Circles No 3',featuring free shapes in vibrant cobalt blue, orange red with a touch of green outlined in gold. I also loved 'No 12', a stylised geometric cross with patterns formed by lines coloured in black and gold. Some circular ceramics are also part of this exhibition including cylindrical pieces, plates and bowls.
Exhibition on through 28th March, 2010
Review by Kay Ward: Nic Moon 'Jewel in the Crown' Southland Museum & Art Gallery
Nic was Southland Art Foundation’s 2009 William Hodges Fellow.
Her exhibition is an installation of sculptural artifacts inspired by aspects of Southland's environmental history. Nic has used harakeke fibre, produced locally by the Templeton Flax Mill Heritage Museum, and the skulls, bones, and skins of introduced mammals brought to Southland by early explorers, whalers, sealers, flax millers, and settlers often as a source of food and skins.
'The 'Inner Sanctum' makes a powerful statement. With connotations of secret society rituals, a pile of cow bones is lit up by a spotlight on a bed of lignite surrounded by hanging skulls of introduced animals. Goats, rats, deer and rabbits all have ears added to make the species recognisable. These skulls are 'dressed' in spun flax hanging like ethereal spirits and tufted like Maori cloaks. We are left in no doubt that the bones are those of a cow...the ear tag is still attached. The 'Crown Jewels' are beautifully crafted necklaces of woven harakeke featuring the skulls of introduced mammals that threaten the indigenous flora and fauna of Southland. Inspiration came from the oldest artifact in the museum - an imitation whale tooth necklace carved from the bone of the Moa - an extinct flightless bird. This is a taonga (treasure) to local Maori.
'A Blanket for Richard Henry' is a striking woven flax rain cape embellished with skulls of bird predators (stoats, mice and rats). Richard Henry was the ranger on Resolution Island in the late 1800s, NZs first attempt to create an island sanctuary for endangered native birds.
If Art is about provoking discussion then Nic Moon has certainly achieved that. This is an exhibition not to be missed.
Exhibition on through 25 March, 2010
As a Southlander, I am familiar with Russell Beck's large stainless steel and aluminium public sculptures. The Eastern Southland Gallery's current exhibition "Forces of the Land" is Russell's first solo show. Exhibited here are mid-sized sculptures that were new to me, and I am glad of the opportunity to view some of these, along with a large collection of his expertly crafted stone work.
Upon going into the room to the right of the entranceway of the gallery in Gore I was immediately struck by Beck's "Rhombic Cubes 09", a 2-meter tall crisply constructed sculpture in lustrous primary yellow. "Rhombic Cubes" comprises four angled shapes stacked in gravitational tension. The perfect construction gives a surreal feeling to the piece, when I stared at it whilst standing still it resembled a two-dimensional tromp l'oeil. This room also has a variety of Russell's sculpture in fabricated steel, oamaru stone and some maquettes of his large sculptures.
The other space in the exhibition displays Russell's gently flowing stone carving gathered from numerous private collections. Moving around I was thrilled to see pieces that I had studied only in pictures. Having done a little stone work myself, my imagination and memory were stirred by the smooth, luxuriant curves of the stone. Shaping stone requires more of a sensitivity to the material than actual engineering. In my mind I could feel the weight of the stone, the swirls of cloudy water and the artist's intense concentration.
Standing self-assuredly on a plinth under glass is "The Last of the Great Glaciers", a beautifully proportioned heavy disk of gabro stone. It has a siberian jade hand-sized element that fits into its own groove channelled across the satin black gabro. Without the glass case I am sure that I could not have resisted sliding the jade element myself to feel the perfect movement that I am sure must there. Besides the geological reference in the title, this work recalls the technique used by ancient Maori to saw slabs of pounamu into objects such as mere, toki and whao.
In "Fondle Cobble" Russell Beck uses bi-coloured siberian jade to skillfully create the illusion of a single piece being made of two different parts. This piece in particular I have wondered at in illustrations. It is a treat to see it for real and still be awed by its seamless duplicity.
Inanga is a variety of Nephrite Jade named for its milky hue like whitebait (inanga). Russell's three lively, engaging "Inanga" seem to be the ideal conclusion of form for this material. "Inanga" is similar to a form of Maori ear-pendants called kurupapa. These were worn suspended from a small hole which, like Russell's "Inanga", function visually as an eye. Maori legend tells of the connection of fish and pounamu and many people today will attest to the mysteriously animated properties of this special stone. As well as these connections, the shape of these small fish sometimes naturally occur in bowenite, a material similar to pounamu that was often used in maori ear pieces.
Russell Beck's "Forces of the Land" is on display at the Eastern Southland Gallery until January 24th. Don't miss this exhibition which covers the last forty years of Russell's career. All who have interest in art, engineering or geology will be enriched by the experience of viewing it.