Art seen: 20 April

Monitor III, by Robert P. West.
Monitor III, by Robert P. West.
"Exact Air", Robert P. West

(Moray Gallery)

Robert P. West has taken a step towards a more formalised abstraction with his latest exhibition. At the same time, he has diluted his colours, softening the appearance of what might have become colder images.

Many of the amorphous forms and linear connections found in West’s earlier exhibitions have gone, replaced by more controlled geometries placed against highly textured surfaces. Canvas-board as rough as hessian and veneered panels where shining woodgrain becomes integral to the works dominate.

Taking a 1933 essay by architect Le Corbusier as his inspiration, West has presented a series of works where the visceral surfaces combine with the minimalist features of the paint and graphite to blend into a more organic whole when seen from a distance. As the viewer moves away and the images recede, there is a feeling of viewing simply a small part of a much larger creation, much like an extreme close-up of a grainy photograph or a low-resolution digital image.

This sensation is enhanced by the titles of the works, several of them coming from Rebecca Solnit’s 2013 book The Faraway Nearby, an epic philosophical work which defies easy categorisation. As with the intent of West’s exhibition, trying to pigeonhole the book as one thing is impossible — one needs to step back to see the whole picture.

Lady Can’t Even Buy Herself a Shell Nowadays!, by Eion Shanks.
Lady Can’t Even Buy Herself a Shell Nowadays!, by Eion Shanks.
"The New Nine, Live (Supported by Let Them Eat Bacteria)", Eion Shanks

(De Novo Gallery)

At De Novo, Eion Shanks uses oils and charcoal to create a series of works commenting on the impending climate calamity.

Using black humour, bright friendly images, and more than a passing nod to many classical artworks, Shanks presents nine paintings, each of which directly references one of nine "boundaries", trigger-points at which human activities send or have sent the planet’s ecology into a downward spiral. These boundary points relate to such issues as ocean acidification, release of toxic chemicals, and ozone depletion. A 10th work, Let Them Eat Bacteria is billed as a "support act", the whole exhibition being presented by the artist as if it were a music performance of grand drama. And, in some ways, the suggestion of a grand drama is perhaps accurate, with the whole of humanity as its actors.

There is a gleeful joy to many of the works, one which almost borders on zaniness in its combination of the classical and surreal. A levitating Christ pushes a one-wheeled ice barrow in one work, and in another Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is depicted against a background of a gushing oil rig (the play on the word "shell" is clearly deliberate). Even separated from their message, the works are enjoyable, and together with it, they become very poignant.

Green Valley, Carmarthenshire, by Franc
Green Valley, Carmarthenshire, by Franc
"Frances Hodgkins: Between Croft and Corfe"

(Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

The Dunedin Public Art Gallery is showing an impressive exhibition of works by Frances Hodgkins, focusing on works created in England and Wales during the last two decades of the artist’s life.

In all, around a dozen works are presented, all dating from the 1930s and 1940s. During this time, Hodgkins was initially based in London, before spending the years of World War 2 living close to the ruins of Corfe Castle in Dorset, and at her studio, The Croft, in Somerset. Many of the works are landscapes, showing the artist’s obvious love for the small towns and villages of southwest England and South Wales.

Hodgkins’ paintings of the period, mostly in gouache or oil, combine deliberately exaggerated line, bold, frenzied detail work and frequently also use subtle watercolour-like shading. The combination of these seemingly disparate techniques results in a striking vitality.

As always with the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, the works are thoroughly annotated. Though some of the paintings may be familiar (they are mainly from the gallery’s own permanent collection), they are well worth viewing, especially in the context of other pieces from the same era. Displayed en masse they provide an impressive overview of this late but influential period of Hodgkins’ career.

By James Dignan